32 polycystic kidney disease (PKD) patients, 16 with normal 16 with variably decreased renal function, were studied; 12 were normotensive, 20 were hypertensive. Mean arterial pressure (MAP) was 90 +/- 8 mm Hg in the normotensive group and 117 +/- 17 in hypertensive patients; plasma renin activity (PRA) was similar. The glomerular filtration rate (GFR) was lower, but not significantly, in the hypertensive group and plasma volume (PV) was higher in hypertensive patients (normotensive 40.25 +/- 3.47 ml/kg body weight; hypertensive 46.30 +/- 3.54). No correlation was found between MAP, and PRA or GFR but MAP correlated with PV. Cardiac output was higher in hypertensive patients (normotensive 3.48 +/- 0.70 l/min/m2; hypertensive 3.89 +/- 1.47), also total peripheral resistance was higher in the hypertensive group (normotensive 2,035 +/- 503 dyn/s/cm-5/m2; hypertensive 2,577 +/- 808). Cardiac output and PV showed a high degree of correlation, but no correlation was seen between total peripheral resistance and PV, or PRA. The hypertensive patients were divided into two groups: one with hypertension of less than 2 years duration and one with more than 2 years but with similar GFR, PRA, PV and hemodynamic pattern. Our data indicate that hypertension in PKD is volume-dependent; that the increase in PV was not related to the loss of GFR, and that the role of the renin-angiotensin system in maintaining the hypertensive state is not well defined. Hemodynamically hypertension is characterized by high cardiac output and total peripheral resistance independent of the duration of hypertension.