We have previously shown that high dose cortisol (F; 240 mg/day)-induced Na+ retention and systolic blood pressure (BP) increases are not inhibited by the glucocorticoid (type II) receptor antagonist RU486. Adequacy of type II receptor blockade with RU486 was clearly demonstrated, indicating that the Na+ retention was not mediated through the glucocorticoid receptor. Spironolactone (Sp: 400 mg/day), in a preliminary assessment, also did not inhibit F-induced Na+ retention. The purpose of this study was to determine whether the Na+ retention produced by F administration is mediated by the type I receptor by comparing the effects of F to a potent type I agonist [9 alpha-fludrohydrocortisone (9 alpha FF)] with and without Sp administration. The effects of the two agonists and Sp on urinary K excretion and BP were also compared. Normal male volunteers, on a constant daily diet for 10 days, received either F (240 mg/day) or 9 alpha FF (3.0 mg/day) with or without Sp (400 mg/day) for the last 5 days. The mean cumulative reductions in Na+ excretion during the 5 days compared to baseline values before hormone administration were 255 +/- 38 and 494 +/- 81 mmol/5 days for F (n = 9) and 9 alpha FF (n = 5), respectively (P = 0.01). Sp (n = 5) completely inhibited 9 alpha FF-induced Na+ retention (494 +/- 81 vs. -37 +/- 130 mmol/5 days; P less than 0.01), but had no effect (n = 5) on F-induced Na+ retention (255 +/- 38 vs. 193 +/- 50 mmol/5 days; P = NS). After the expected first day kaliuresis, the effects of both steroids on net cumulative urinary K+ excretion were minimal. Systolic BP was increased by F, but not 9 alpha FF, and Sp did not inhibit this increase. A 2-fold greater Sp-inhibitable Na(+)-retaining effect of the mineralocorticoid demonstrates that the failure of Sp to block F-induced Na+ retention is not due to inadequate type I receptor blockade. Based on these findings and earlier studies, we conclude that high dose (stress level) F-induced Na+ retention and systolic BP increase are not mediated by either the mineralo- or glucocorticoid receptor in normal man.