A high salt diet leads to up-regulation of alpha-2 adrenoceptors and down-regulation of beta-2 adrenoceptors in normotensive subjects. Although the increase in blood pressure with a high salt diet is not related to the magnitude of the alpha-2 or beta-2 adrenoceptor changes alone, it is related to the increase in the ratio of the receptor changes (operative alpha/beta adrenoceptor ratio). An increase in the operative alpha/beta adrenoceptor ratio with a high salt intake results in vasoconstriction and reduced vasodilatation at resistance vessels, as well as increased renal proximal tubular sodium reabsorption. An influence of heredity on this relationship is supported by four lines of evidence: 1) salt-sensitivity of blood pressure occurs predominantly in subjects with a family history of hypertension; 2) studies in twin children document the influence of genetic variance on salt-sensitivity of blood pressure; 3) subjects with a family history of hypertension have a significantly lower salivary sodium concentration and an altered urinary sodium excretion after salt loading compared to subjects with no such history; 4) salt-sensitivity of blood pressure may be associated with specific genetic markers. On the basis of these observations, we propose the hypothesis that enhanced inverse alpha-beta-adrenoceptor regulation in response to a high salt intake may be responsible for salt sensitivity in the normal population, and may contribute to the development of essential hypertension in susceptible individuals. This alteration is likely to be genetically mediated.