We compared the effect of the renal nerves on renal function, plasma renin activity, and renal renin and angiotensinogen mRNA contents in Wistar rats and spontaneously hypertensive rats (SHR). Rats were anesthetized with sodium pentobarbital, the left kidney was exposed, its nerves were sectioned, the ureter was cannulated, and a flow probe was placed on the renal artery. The renal nerves were stimulated for 1 hour to reduce renal blood flow by 15% and 30%, after which blood was removed for measurement of plasma renin activity, and kidneys were analyzed for renal renin and angiotensinogen mRNA. Frequency-related reductions in filtration rate were similar, from 15% to 50%, as was sodium excretion, from 30% to 70%, in both SHR and Wistar rats. Basal plasma renin activity and responses to nerve stimulation in SHR were approximately half those of Wistar rats (all P < .001). SHR renal renin mRNA concentrations were approximately three quarters those of Wistar rats and were unchanged by either low- or high-level renal nerve stimulation, whereas the higher rate increased renin mRNA approximately threefold (P < .05) in the Wistar rats. SHR renal angiotensinogen mRNA was one quarter that of the Wistar rats and was unaffected by nerve stimulation, whereas in the Wistar rats it was increased threefold (P < .05) by the low but not high level of nerve stimulation. These findings show that whereas the renal nerves are able to modulate hemodynamic and tubular functions relatively normally in SHR, their ability to increase renin release, renal renin, and angiotensinogen mRNA levels is depressed.