To evaluate a possible neural or renal contribution to the hypertension that occurs in some patients following coarctation of aorta repair, 35 patients underwent graded bicycle exercise with serial measurements of plasma norepinephrine concentrations and plasma renin activity. Sixteen patients with coarctectomy who had systolic or diastolic hypertension at peak exercise were compared with 19 normotensive patients with coarctectomy. The average time interval between coarctation repair and study was significantly longer (p less than 0.05) in the hypertensive group than in the normotensive patients (12.8 +/- 4.8 versus 8.7 +/- 2.2 years). The heart rate response to exercise was similar for both patient groups. The systolic blood pressure in the hypertensive group was higher than in the normotensive group at rest in the supine and upright positions and at 5 minutes of recovery, in addition to peak exercise, and the diastolic blood pressure was increased at peak exercise. Plasma norepinephrine concentrations were significantly higher at peak exercise and during recovery in the hypertensive group than in the normotensive patients. Plasma renin activity was also significantly higher in the hypertensive group at peak exercise. These data suggest that patients with coarctectomy who have a hypertensive response to exercise have an augmented sympathetic nervous system output and increased plasma renin activity that may lead to peripheral vasoconstriction at peak exercise and that may contribute to the development of their hypertension.