The current study was designed to determine the role of sodium-proton (Na+/H+) exchange in blood pressure regulation in sodium chloride (NaCl)- sensitive and NaCl-resistant spontaneously hypertensive rats and control Wistar-Kyoto rats (WKY) using 5-(N,N-hexamethylene)amiloride (HMA), a potent and selective inhibitor of Na+/H+ exchange. The response of mean arterial pressure to intravenous infusion of HMA was examined in conscious, unrestrained male rats maintained on normal (1%) or high (8%) NaCl diets for 3 weeks beginning at age 7 weeks. The HMA significantly increased mean arterial pressure in NaCl-sensitive spontaneously hypertensive rats and NaCl- resistant spontaneously hypertensive rats that were fed 1% NaCl, but not in WKY rats that were fed 1% NaCl; the 8% NaCl diet enhanced this pressor response in all 3 strains. The pressor response was accompanied by significant increases in plasma norepinephrine levels in NaCl-sensitive spontaneously hypertensive rats on both diets, but not in NaCl-resistant spontaneously hypertensive rats or WKY rats on either diet. There were no differences in steady-state levels (30-60 nM) of plasma HMA between diet groups in any strain. Therefore, administration of HMA in a dose at which it is highly selective for the Na+/H+ exchanger (Ki = 160 nM) caused a systemic pressor response in spontaneously hypertensive rats that was enhanced by dietary NaCl supplementation. With these data, it is suggested that inhibition of Na+/H+ exchange in vivo has a pressor effect greater in spontaneously hypertensive rats than in WKY rats and is further enhanced by NaCl supplementation.