Quantitative autoradiography was used to compare melatonin receptors in brain areas and arteries of young (4 weeks old) and adult (14 weeks old) spontaneously hypertensive rats (SHR) to those in age-matched normotensive controls, Wistar-Kyoto (WKY) rats. Age and strain influenced the number of melatonin receptors in an anatomically selective manner, and the most striking changes occurred in arterial receptors. Melatonin receptors were not detectable in the anterior cerebral arteries of adult SHR. In the caudal artery, melatonin receptors decreased with age in both strains, but the decrease was more pronounced in SHR. When compared to age-matched WKY rats, the number of caudal artery receptors was higher in young and lower in adult SHR. The number of melatonin receptors was higher in the area postrema of adult SHR when compared to adult WKY rats, but in the suprachiasmatic nucleus, no such differences between the two strains were present. Alterations in receptor density were not accompanied by changes in binding affinity. Our results indicate that in the rat melatonin receptors show different developmental patterns according to location and that the receptors may be expressed differentially in genetic hypertension.