A commonly accepted hypothesis is that a chronically high-sodium diet expands extracellular volume and finally reaches a steady state where sodium intake and output are balanced whereas extracellular volume is expanded. However, in a recent study where the main purpose was to investigate the role of natriuretic peptides under day-to-day sodium intake conditions (Heer M, Drummer C, Baisch F, and Gerzer R. Pflügers Arch 425: 390-394, 1993), our laboratory observed increases in plasma volume without any rise in extracellular volume. To scrutinize these results that were observed as a side effect, we performed a controlled, randomized study including 32 healthy male test subjects in a metabolic ward. The NaCl intake ranged from a low level of 50 meq NaCl/day to 200, 400, and 550 meq/day, respectively. Plasma volume dose dependently increased (P < 0.01), being elevated by 315 +/- 37 ml in the 550-meq-NaCl-intake group. However, in contrast to the increased plasma volume, comparable to study I, total body water did not increase. In parallel, body mass also did not increase. Mean corpuscular volume of erythrocytes, as an index for intracellular volume, was also unchanged. We conclude from the results of these two independently conducted studies that under the chosen study conditions, in contrast to present opinions, high sodium intake does not induce total body water storage but induces a relative fluid shift from the interstitial into the intravascular space.