Angiotensin II (Ang II) acts on central angiotensin type 1 (AT(1)) receptors to increase water and saline intake. Prolonged exposure to Ang II in cell culture models results in a desensitization of the AT(1) receptor that is thought to involve receptor internalization, and a behavioural correlate of this desensitization has been shown in rats after repeated central injections of Ang II. Specifically, rats given repeated injections of Ang II drink less water than control animals after a subsequent test injection of Ang II. In the same conditions, however, repeated injections of Ang II have no effect on Ang II-induced saline intake. Given earlier studies indicating that separate intracellular signalling pathways mediate Ang II-induced water and saline intake, we hypothesized that the desensitization observed in rats may be incomplete, leaving the receptor able to activate mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinases (ERK1/2), which play a role in Ang II-induced saline intake without affecting water intake. In support of this hypothesis, we found no difference in MAP kinase phosphorylation after an Ang II test injection in rats given prior treatment with repeated injections of vehicle, Ang II or Sar(1),Ile(4),Ile(8)-Ang II (SII), an Ang II analogue that activates MAP kinase without G protein coupling. In addition, we found that pretreatment with the MAP kinase inhibitor U0126 completely blocked the desensitizing effect of repeated Ang II injections on water intake. Furthermore, Ang II-induced water intake was reduced to a similar extent by repeated injections of Ang II or SII. The results suggest that G protein-independent signalling is sufficient to produce behavioural desensitization of the angiotensin system and that the desensitization requires MAP kinase activation.