Angiotensin within the central nervous system appears to be important for the maintenance of hypertension in spontaneously hypertensive rats. This study addresses the hypothesis that blockade of AT1 receptors in the rostral ventrolateral medulla would decrease blood pressure in spontaneously hypertensive rats and that this tonically active AT1-mediated input to the rostral ventrolateral medulla arises from the hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus. Injection of the nonpeptide AT1 receptor antagonist valsartan bilaterally into the rostral ventrolateral medulla of choralose-anesthetized adult spontaneously hypertensive rats produced a dose-related decrease in mean arterial pressure, with a maximal effect of approximately 30 mm Hg. Inhibition of the paraventricular nucleus by local injection of muscimol elicited a similar response, which was inhibited by prior injection of valsartan into the rostral ventrolateral medulla. In contrast, in control Wistar-Kyoto rats, neither valsartan injected into the rostral ventrolateral medulla nor muscimol injected into the paraventricular nucleus had a substantial effect on arterial pressure. These data indicate that in spontaneously hypertensive rats but not in Wistar-Kyoto rats, rostral ventrolateral medulla vasomotor neurons are tonically excited by endogenous stimulation of AT1 receptors, and this input is apparently driven from the hypothalamus. These results suggest that the rostral ventrolateral medulla is one site that the brain renin-angiotensin system acts to maintain elevated blood pressure in spontaneously hypertensive rats.