Thirteen men, age 60 +/- 2 years (mean +/- SEM) with mild hypertension, 151 +/- 4/95 +/- 3 mm Hg, completed a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover trial of ketanserin therapy. In comparison to placebo, ketanserin treatment at 40 mg bid for 6 weeks lowered systolic and diastolic blood pressure, 148 +/- 4/92 +/- 3 vs. 140 +/- 6/86 +/- 3 mm Hg, P = 0.19/0.02. The rate of platelet aggregation in response to ADP and epinephrine was unchanged while the response to serotonin was greatly diminished. Neither the systemic pressor response nor the pupillary mydriatic response to phenylephrine was significantly altered. Plasma norepinephrine concentration declined significantly. Ketanserin reduced blood pressure, particularly the diastolic component, in elderly men with mild hypertension. While antagonism of serotonin's effects on platelet aggregation was evident, blockade of alpha 1-receptor-mediated events was not apparent. The results suggest that during chronic therapy the antihypertensive effects of ketanserin were mediated by serotonergic blockade and a possible lytic effect on sympathetic drive. The dual effects of ketanserin on blood pressure and platelet aggregation may be beneficial in reducing cardiovascular complications in hypertensive patients.