OBJECTIVE: To evaluate the contribution of the haem oxygenase-carbon monoxide (CO) system to renal vascular tone in normotensive Wistar rats and in the stroke-prone spontaneously hypertensive rats (SHR-SPs). METHODS: An isolated perfused rat kidney preparation was used in which perfusion pressure/phenylephrine dose-vasoconstrictor responses were generated. Haemin was given 24 h previously, to induce haem oxygenase-1 (HO-1), and L-NAME (N-omega-nitro-L-arginine methyl ester) was given to block nitric oxide (NO) production. RESULTS: Haemin pretreatment attenuated the phenylephrine-induced rise in perfusion pressure (P < 0.05) but L-NAME had no effect on the magnitude of the renal vasoconstrictor responses to phenylephrine. This suggested that the effect of haemin incubation on renovascular responses did not involve NO production. Pretreatment of the rats with the haem oxygenase inhibitor, tin protoporphyrin IX (SnPP-IX) had no effect on either the basal tone or the phenylephrine-induced contractions in the renal vasculature. By contrast, the renovascular responses to phenylephrine in haemin-treated animals were restored following the coadministration of SnPP-IX. Haemin administration in the SHR-SPs caused a significantly greater reduction in the renovascular responses to phenylephrine compared to those in the normotensive animals (P < 0.05). CONCLUSIONS: Following induction of HO-1, the HO-CO system plays an important role in the regulation of renal responses to an adrenergically induced vasoconstrictor challenge. Moreover, the renal vascular bed of hypertensive animals exhibited a greater propensity to upregulate the HO-CO system, which may provide an important counteractive role against the elevation of blood pressure in hypertension.