Although evidence indicates that activation of presympathetic paraventricular nucleus (PVN) neurons contributes to the pathogenesis of salt-sensitive hypertension, the underlying cellular mechanisms are not fully understood. Recent evidence indicates that small conductance Ca(2+)-activated K(+) (SK) channels play a significant role in regulating the excitability of a key group of sympathetic regulatory PVN neurons, those with axonal projections to the rostral ventrolateral medulla (RVLM; i.e., PVN-RVLM neurons). In the present study, rats consuming a high salt (2% NaCl) diet were made hypertensive by systemic infusion of angiotensin II (AngII), and whole cell patch-clamp recordings were made in brain slice from retrogradely labeled PVN-RVLM neurons. To determine if the amplitude of SK current was altered in neurons from hypertensive rats, voltage-clamp recordings were performed to isolate SK current. Results indicate that SK current amplitude (P < 0.05) and density (P < 0.01) were significantly smaller in the hypertensive group. To investigate the impact of this on intrinsic excitability, current-clamp recordings were performed in separate groups of PVN-RVLM neurons. Results indicate that the frequency of spikes evoked by current injection was significantly higher in the hypertensive group (P < 0.05-0.01). Whereas bath application of the SK channel blocker apamin significantly increased discharge of neurons from normotensive rats (P < 0.05-0.01), no effect was observed in the hypertensive group. In response to ramp current injections, subthreshold depolarizing input resistance was greater in the hypertensive group compared with the normotensive group (P < 0.05). Blockade of SK channels increased depolarizing input resistance in normotensive controls (P < 0.05) but had no effect in the hypertensive group. On termination of current pulses, a medium afterhyperpolarization potential (mAHP) was observed in most neurons of the normotensive group. In the hypertensive group, the mAHP was either small or absent. In the latter case, an afterdepolarization potential (ADP) was observed that was unaffected by apamin. Apamin treatment in the normotensive group blocked the mAHP and revealed an ADP resembling that seen in the hypertensive group. We conclude that diminished SK current likely underlies the absence of mAHPs in PVN-RVLM neurons from hypertensive rats. Both the ADP and greater depolarizing input resistance likely contribute to increased excitability of PVN-RVLM neurons from rats with AngII-Salt hypertension.