The present study was undertaken to measure 1,4-dihydropyridine (DHP) receptor binding sites in vivo in the mesenteric artery and other tissues of spontaneously hypertensive rats (SHR) and to examine the effect of nifedipine and cilnidipine. Specific in vivo binding of (+)-[3H]PN 200-110 in the SHR mesenteric artery was dose dependently reduced by oral administration of nifedipine at relatively low doses. Oral administration of cilnidipine (6.09 micromol/kg) significantly reduced the specific in vivo binding of (+)-[3H]PN 200-110 in the mesenteric artery, aorta, and myocardium. A significant reduction in (+)-[3H]PN 200-110 binding was seen at 1-12 h in the mesenteric artery and at 1-7 h in the aorta and myocardium. In contrast, oral administration of nifedipine (28.9 micromol/kg) markedly reduced in vivo (+)-[3H]PN 200-110 binding in all tissues of SHR at 1-6 h, and the degree and time course of the reduction did not differ much among the tissues. The area under the curve (AUC) for receptor occupancy vs. time was calculated from the reduction rate (%) of specific in vivo (+)-[3H]PN 200-110 binding. The ratio (1.4 or 1.7) of the AUC(mesenteric artery) to AUCaorta or AUCmyocardium after oral administration of cilnidipine was greater than the corresponding value (1.1) for nifedipine. In conclusion, the present study demonstrates that cilnidipine, but not nifedipine, may occupy 1,4-DHP receptors in the small artery in a more selective and sustained manner than in other tissues of SHR, and thus such receptor binding specificity may be responsible for the long-lasting hypotensive effect of this drug.