The aim of the present study was to investigate whether angiotensin II, by increasing extracellular matrix synthesis, contributed to the vascular wall thickening observed in hypertension. Thus, we examined the direct effects of angiotensin II on collagen and fibronectin synthesis in cultured rat vascular smooth muscle cells by measuring 3H-proline incorporation. Angiotensin II, in a concentration of 10 mumol/l, increased collagen synthesis in a dose-dependent manner up to 1.8-fold. This increase occurred within 24 h after the addition of angiotensin II and the time required to reach maximum stimulation was approximately 48 h. This increase was receptor-mediated and correlated with an increase in its specific messenger RNA. A closer study of the collagen increase demonstrated a relatively greater increase in type V collagen than type I or type III collagen. Fibronectin synthesis was also increased 1.5-fold with 10 mumol/l angiotensin II. These data suggest that angiotensin II induces vascular wall thickening by acting directly on smooth muscle cells and enhancing the production of extracellular matrix proteins.