Sodium appetite, the behavioural drive to ingest salt, is stimulated by prolonged physiological sodium deficiency in many animal species. The same neural mechanisms that are responsible for sodium appetite in laboratory animals may influence human behaviour as well, with particular relevance to the dietary salt intake of patients with diseases such as heart failure, renal failure, liver failure and salt-sensitive hypertension. Since the original experimental work of Curt Richter in the 1930s, much has been learned about the regulation of salt-ingestive behaviour. Here, we review data from physiology, pharmacology, neuroanatomy and neurobehavioural investigations into the stimulatory and inhibitory signals that regulate sodium appetite. A rudimentary framework is proposed for the brain circuits that integrate peripheral information representing the need for sodium with neural signals for the gustatory detection of salt in order to drive a motivated ingestive response. Based on this model, areas of remaining uncertainty are highlighted where future information would allow a more detailed understanding of the neural circuitry responsible for sodium appetite.