Hypertension is a main risk factor for cerebrovascular disease, including vascular dementia. The present study was designed to evaluate if hypertension-dependent changes of the hippocampus of spontaneously hypertensive rats (SHR) of different ages were related with those occurring in vascular dementia. The hippocampus was chosen as the brain area involved in learning and memory. Systolic pressure was slightly increased in 2-month-old SHR in comparison with age-matched normotensive Wistar-Kyoto (WKY) rats and augmented progressively with age in SHR. No microanatomical changes were observed in the hippocampus of SHR of 2 months in comparison with age-matched WKY rats. A limited decrease of white matter volume was observed in 4-month-old SHR. In SHR of 6 months, a reduction of grey matter volume both in the CA1 subfield and in the dentate gyrus occurred. Evaluation of phosphorylated 200-kDa neurofilament immunoreactivity revealed a decreased immune reaction area in the CA1 subfield of 6-month-old SHR compared to age-matched WKY rats and no changes in the expression and localization of the dendritic marker microtubule associated protein (MAP)-2. In 6-month-old SHR, an increase of glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP)-expression was found by Western blot analysis. Immunohistochemistry revealed an increase in number (hyperplasia), but not in size of astrocytes. These findings indicate the occurrence of cytoskeletal breakdown and astroglial changes primarily in the CA1 subfield of the hippocampus of SHR of 6 months. The occurrence in the hippocampus of SHR of regressive changes and astroglial reaction similar to those occurring in neurodegenerative disorders with cognitive impairment suggests that they represent an animal model of vascular dementia.