Angiotensin II acts as a cardiac growth factor, and causes both inotropic and chronotropic changes within the heart. In the present study, we used an in oculo model system to examine the effects of sympathetic innervation on the density of cardiac angiotensin II receptors. Quantitative autoradiography was used to determine the density of angiotensin II receptors in embryonic rat hearts grafted into either sympathetically innervated or sympathetically denervated eye chambers of adult host rats. The density of specific binding to angiotensin II receptors was nearly three-fold higher in sympathetically non-innervated compared to sympathetically innervated heart grafts (30.8 ± 4.2 v 11.5 ± 3.2 fmol/mg protein). Specific binding to angiotensin II receptors in heart grafts was displaced by addition of the AT, receptor antagonist losartan, but not by addition of the AT, receptor competitor PD 123177. Thus, only AT, receptors were present in sympathetically innervated and sympathetically non-innervated embryonic rat hearts grafted in oculo. We conclude that changes in sympathetic innervation caused changes in the density of cardiac angiotensin II receptors in the present study. Our results may have implications for growth and function not only during cardiac development, but also during cardiac disease. © 1995 Academic Press Limited.