Vasodilator responses to acute intra-arterial infusions of K+ are attenuated in dogs with chronic one-kidney perinephritic hypertension in rats with chronic two-kidney Goldblatt hypertension, and in men with essential hypertension. There is evidence that K+ evokes vasodilation by stimulating vascular smooth muscle membrane Na+-K+-activated adenosine triphosphatase, thereby increasing activity of the cellular Na+-K+ electrogenic pump. We therefore proposed that there may be an underlying decrease in the operation of this pump in vascular smooth muscle of hypertensives. The operation of the cellular Na+-K+ pump may be estimated by measurement of rubidium uptake. Thus, so further investigate our hypothesis, we measured 86Rb uptake in small mesenteric arteries and splanchnic veins from 12 dogs with chronic uncomplicated one-kidney perinephritic hypertension and from 12 normotensive control dogs. Vessels were excised under thiamylal anesthesia and incubated in cold medium (plasma or Krebs-Henseleit solution) for sodium loading and then the velocity of 86Rb uptake was estimated in the absence of or in the presence of ouabain, a specific inhibitor of the Na+-K+ pump. In neither arteries nor veins was there evidence for differences between hypertensives and normotensives in the ouabain-insensitive uptake of 86Rb. In contrast, the ouabain-sensitive 86Rb uptake was depressed by 42% in arteries (P less than 0.05) and by 49% in veins (P less than 0.01) from hypertensive dogs, if incubated in the dog's own plasma. These results indicate that the activity of a ouabain-sensitive Na+-K+ pump may be depressed in vascular tissue from dogs with chronic one-kidney perinephritic hypertension. Because the Na+-K+ pump in vascular smooth muscle is probably electrogenic, such an abnormality, by partially depolarizing the muscle cell membrane, would help to account for the elevated vascular resistance found in these dogs.