The genes involved in the regulation of cellular sodium transport characteristics, which are correlated with some forms of essential hypertension, have not yet been identified. We are studying the genes and environmental factors that affect red blood cell sodium-lithium countertransport (SLC) activity and intracellular sodium (ICNa) concentration in 634 baboons that comprise 11 pedigrees of 2 and 3 generations each. To detect and locate possible quantitative trait loci (QTLs) that affect SLC activity and ICNa concentration, we performed a genome screen by using a maximum likelihood-based variance-components linkage analysis program (SOLAR). SLC and ICNa phenotypes as well as genotypes on 281 microsatellite loci were available for all pedigreed animals. Both SLC and ICNa traits were highly heritable (residual heritability 0.593+/-0.083 [P<0.0001] and 0.739+/-0.082 [P<0.0001], respectively). We obtained evidence that a possible QTL for SLC activity is located on the baboon homologue of human chromosome 4 between D4S2456 and D4S2365 with a maximum multipoint lod score of 9.3 (P<10(-)(10)) near D4S1645. This QTL accounts for approximately two thirds of the total additive genetic variation in SLC activity in baboons. Although ICNa concentration was highly heritable, we found no evidence for linkage to a QTL with use of this methodology. Thus, we have evidence that a gene located on the baboon homologue of human chromosome 4 (baboon chromosome 5) affects cell sodium transport in baboons.