Functional studies indicate that hypothalamic magnocellular neurosecretory neurons are a target for angiotensin. The present investigation used intracellular recordings to characterize the nature and type of angiotensin II receptors on rat supraoptic nucleus neurons maintained in superfused hypothalamic explants. Of 68 cells transiently exposed to either Val5- or Ile5-angiotensin II (maximum peak concentration 1-25 microM), 34 responded with a gradual membrane depolarization (1-15 mV) that peaked in 2.2 +/- 0.4 (SD) min and was accompanied by a 17.6 +/- 4.8% reduction of input resistance. Responses persisted (and were actually enhanced) in media containing tetrodotoxin (0.5-1.0 microM) and/or nominally zero calcium, indicating a direct postsynaptic action. In 19 responsive cells, the mean reversal potential for the angiotensin-induced response was -26.4 +/- 2 mV. Bath application of the nonpeptide type-1 angiotensin receptor antagonist DuP753 (5-20 microM) reversibly blocked the angiotensin-induced depolarization in all of 11 cells tested. By contrast, equimolar applications of the type-2 antagonist PD123177 were ineffective in all seven angiotensin-responsive cells tested. These observations provide novel evidence for the existence of functional type-1 receptors on rat supraoptic nucleus neurons. The reversal potential for the angiotensin-induced response suggests mediation through a nonselective cationic conductance.