The effects of lifetime captopril treatment on vasopressin (VP) were assessed in spontaneously hypertensive rats (SHR). Pregnant and nursing dams were treated with oral Captopril (100 mg/kg/day). After weaning, the pups were maintained on Captopril (50/kg/day) for 19-20 wks. Blood pressures of Captopril-treated SHR were in the normotensive range and significantly lower (p less than .001) than SHR control rats. Control and Captopril-treated SHR were perfused and brains were sectioned for immunohistochemical staining with a polyclonal antibody directed against vasopressin (VP). Compared to control SHR, Captopril-treated rats displayed decreased VP-like immunoreactivity in the paraventricular (PVN) and supraoptic (SON) nuclei of the hypothalamus. Captopril treatment also selectively decreased the number of brightly labeled cell bodies in the SON and PVN and reduced VP-like labeling in the axons of the neurons in these nuclei. Concurrent with a decrease in VP-like immunoreactivity, Captopril treatment reduced plasma VP levels (RIA) (p less than 0.01, Captopril, 5.6 +/- 0.5 pg/ml; control, 11.8 +/- 2.2 pg/ml). Scatchard analysis of 3H-VP binding indicated that Captopril treatment increased the number but not the affinity of VP receptors in the hypothalamus and brain stem of SHR. These results suggest that in SHR oral Captopril treatment attenuates the synthesis and release of VP, an effect that may contribute to the blood pressure lowering effect of converting enzyme inhibitors.