The natriuretic effect of DA-1 agonists is less in the spontaneously hypertensive rat (SHR) than its normotensive control, the Wistar-Kyoto rat (WKY). To determine a mechanism of the decreased effect of DA-1 agonists on sodium transport, DA-1 receptors in renal proximal convoluted tubule (PCT) were studied by radioligand binding and by adenylate cyclase (AC) determinations. Specific binding of 125I-SCH 23982 (defined by 10 microM SCH 23390, a DA-1 antagonist) was concentration dependent, saturable, and stereoselective. The dissociation constant, maximum receptor density, and DA-1 antagonist inhibition constant were similar in SHR and WKY. The apparent molecular weight of the DA-1 receptor determined by the photoaffinity D1 probe 125I-MAB was also similar in WKY and SHR. However, DA-1 agonists competed more effectively for specific 125I-SCH 23982 binding sites in WKY than in SHR. Basal as well as forskolin, parathyroid hormone, GTP and Gpp(NH)p-stimulated-AC activities were similar. In contrast DA-1 agonists (fenoldopam, SKF 38393, SND 911C12) stimulated AC activity to a lesser extent in SHR. GTP and Gpp(NH)p enhanced the ability of DA-1 agonists to stimulate AC activity in WKY but not in SHR. These data suggest a defect in the DA-1 receptor-second messenger coupling mechanism in the PCT of the SHR.