The goal of the present study was to test the hypothesis that the balance of tonic excitation and inhibition of vasomotor neurons in the rostral ventrolateral medulla (RVLM) driven by excitatory amino acid (EAA)-mediated inputs to the RVLM is shifted toward excitation in Dahl salt-sensitive (DS) rats compared with Dahl salt-resistant (DR) rats. Glutamate and the EAA antagonist kynurenic acid were microinjected into the RVLM of chloralose-anesthetized DS and DR rats maintained on diets containing either 0.3% NaCl or 8.0% NaCl. DS rats had a higher arterial pressure than DR rats, and this difference was greatly exaggerated by high dietary salt intake. Bilateral injection of kynurenic acid (2.7 nmol) into the RVLM decreased mean arterial pressure by 16+/-2 mm Hg in DS rats fed a diet containing 0.3% NaCl, and this effect was significantly larger in DS rats fed the high-salt diet (40+/-2 mm Hg). In contrast, injections of kynurenic acid into the RVLM did not significantly decrease arterial pressure in DR rats fed either diet. In DR rats, the pressor response elicited by the injection of glutamate into the RVLM was potentiated in rats fed the high-salt diet. The glutamate-evoked pressor response was greater in DS rats compared with DR rats, and the response in DS rats was not influenced by the salt content of the diet. These data suggest that tonically active EAA inputs to the RVLM may contribute to salt-sensitive hypertension in the Dahl model.