The renal nerves contribute to hypertension in experimental models of the disease, and appear to play a role in human hypertension. Several lines of evidence indicate that both in spontaneously hypertensive rats and in deoxycorticosterone acetate-NaCl rats, the full development of hypertension is dependent on renal efferent nerves and their induction of excess sodium retention. Renal sensory (afferent nerve) feedback to the central nervous system does not contribute to either of these forms of hypertension. In contrast, renovascular hypertension in rats and aortic coarctation hypertension in dogs are mediated, at least in part, by overactivity of renal afferent nerves and a resultant increase in systemic sympathetic nervous system activity. These forms of hypertension are not associated with sodium retention, and selective sensory denervation of renal afferent nerves by dorsal rhizotomy and total renal denervation result in similar reductions in hypertension. Surprisingly, the renal nerves do not contribute to dietary NaCl exacerbated hypertension in the spontaneously hypertensive rat, dietary NaCl-induced hypertension in the Dahl NaCl-sensitive rat, or the chronic hypertensive and nephrotoxic effects of cyclosporine A therapy in the rat, despite the finding that in all three forms of hypertension, overactivity of the sympathetic nervous system is prominent. Clinical studies indicate that the renal afferent and efferent nerves contribute to hypertension of different etiologies. Together these data point to the complex role that the renal nerves likely play in human essential hypertension.