It was previously observed that a significant regression of structural alterations and endothelial dysfunction in mesenteric small arteries of spontaneously hypertensive rats (SHRs) may be obtained after therapy with angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors. It is not clear whether angiotensin II-type 1 receptor blockers may share this properties. We evaluated the effects of the ACE inhibitor enalapril and of the angiotensin II-receptor blocker candesartan cilexetil on structural alterations of mesenteric small resistance arteries, on cardiac mass, and on endothelial function in SHRs. Seventy-three rats were included in the study. Sixteen SHRs were treated with enalapril and 21 with candesartan cilexetil, whereas 18 Wistar-Kyoto (WKY) and 18 SHRs were untreated. Enalapril and candesartan cilexetil were administered in the drinking water from weeks 4 to 12 of age. Blood pressure was measured noninvasively every week. The rats were killed at the end of the treatment period, after 3 or 4 days of therapeutic washout. Heart weight/body weight ratio (HW/BW) was measured. Mesenteric arterioles were dissected and mounted on a micromyograph (Mulvany's technique). Then the media-to-lumen ratio (M/L) was evaluated. In addition, endothelium-dependent and endothelium-independent relaxation was evaluated by dose-response curves to acetylcholine (in the presence or absence of a bradykinin-receptor blocker and of indomethacin) and sodium nitroprusside. Systolic blood pressure was significantly reduced by both drugs, compared with untreated SHRs, although the hypotensive effect was greater with enalapril than with candesartan cilexetil. A significant reduction of M/L of mesenteric small arteries and of HW/BW was observed in SHRs treated with candesartan cilexetil or enalapril. A significant improvement of endothelial function, as evaluated by a dose-response to acetylcholine, was observed. The acetylcholine-induced vasodilatation was similar after addition to the organ bath of a selective blocker of bradykinin receptors, thus suggesting a minor role (if any) of the increased local availability of bradykinin, as a consequence of inhibition of ACE, in the improvement of endothelial function observed after enalapril treatment. In addition to a satisfactory antihypertensive effect observed with both drugs, candesartan cilexetil and enalapril were proven to be equally effective in reducing structural alterations in mesenteric small resistance arteries, in normalizing cardiac mass, and in improving endothelial function. The inhibition of bradykinin breakdown does not seem to be involved in the improvement of endothelial dysfunction observed with ACE inhibitors.