After dehydration, oral rehydration causes a fall in plasma arginine vasopressin (AVP) that precedes changes in plasma osmolality. To investigate further the stimulus for this effect, its specificity, and association with thirst, six volunteers were deprived of water for 24 h and given a salt load on two separate occasions. On each study day they then drank rapidly 10 ml/kg of either tap water or hypertonic saline (360 mosmol/kg). There was a significant fall in plasma AVP from 2.0 +/- 0.3 to 1.2 +/- 0.4 pmol/l (P less than 0.05) 5 min after drinking water and from 1.8 +/- 0.3 to 0.9 +/- 0.2 pmol/l (P less than 0.05) after hypertonic saline. Plasma osmolality fell 30-60 min after water and was unchanged after saline. Plasma renin activity, oxytocin, and total protein all remained unchanged. All subjects reported diminished thirst after hypertonic saline. Gargling with water reduced thirst but did not affect plasma AVP. There appears to be a drinking-mediated neuroendocrine reflex that decreases plasma AVP irrespective of the osmolality of the liquid consumed. The sensation of thirst did not correlate with plasma osmolality and was not always related to plasma AVP concentration.