The current study tested the hypothesis that circulating atrial natriuretic peptide (ANP) inhibits sympathetic outflow, as reflected in lumbar sympathetic nerve activity (LSNA), in NaCI-sensitive spontaneously hypertensive rats (SHR-S) and that this effect is exaggerated by high NaCI feeding. NaCI-resistant SHR (SHR-R) and Wistar-Kyoto (WKY) rats maintained on basal and high-NaCI diets were used as controls. Intravenous administration of ANP to conscious, freely moving rats with intact baroreflexes decreased blood pressure and LSNA in SHR-S, SHR-R and WKY rats maintained on basal or high-NaCI diets for 2-3 weeks. The depressor response to intravenous ANP was greater in 8% NaCI-fed SHR-S than in any other group; the LSNA response was greater in SHR-S on either diet than in any other group. Intracerebroventricular administration of ANP evoked small, transient sympatholytic responses in SHR-S on both diets and minimal responses in SHR-R and WKY rats; these responses could not be attributed to leakage of ANP into the peripheral circulation. Thus, circulating ANP has a sympatholytic effect in SHR-S that is not amplified by high-NaCI feeding and can be only partially accounted for by a central action. © Current Science Ltd ISSN 0263-6352.