Urotensin II (UII) concentrations are raised both in humans with hypertension and in spontaneously hypertensive rats (SHR). Since the urotensin system acts to regulate glomerular filtration in the kidney it may play a greater role in the pre-hypertensive SHR in which renal dysfunction is known to precede the onset of severe hypertension. This study aimed to determine the renal actions and expression of the urotensin system in the young SHR. Intravenous rat UII (6 pmol. min(-1). 100 g body weight(-1)) had no significant effect on GFR; however urotensin-related peptide (URP) reduced GFR (P<0.05) in 4-5 week old SHR. Administration of the UT antagonist SB-706375 evoked marked increases in GFR (baseline 0.38 ± 0.07 vs antagonist 0.76 ± 0.05 ml. min(-1). 100 g body weight(-1), P<0.05), urine flow and sodium excretion (baseline 2.5 ± 0.4 vs antagonist 9.1 ± 2.1 µmol. min(-1). 100 g body weight(-1), P<0.05) in the SHR. Normotensive Wistar-Kyoto rats showed little response to UT antagonism. Quantitative RT-PCR showed that neither UII nor UT mRNA expression differed between the kidneys of young SHR and WKY rats; however expression of URP was 4-fold higher in the SHR kidney. Renal transcriptional up-regulation indicates that URP is the major UT ligand in young SHR and WKY rats. Enhanced tonic UT activation may contribute to known renal dysfunction in pre-hypertensive SHR.