Forearm blood flow (FABF) and forearm vascular resistance (FAVR) responses to sequential regional infusions of norepinephrine (NE) and angiotensin II (Ang II) were examined in 24 hypertensive and 18 matched normotensive subjects. Sensitivity to both vasoconstrictors, defined as the percentage increase in FAVR in response to the lowest dose of each agonist, was similar in the two groups. Also, the FABF response curve to the full range of both agonists did not differ between hypertensives and normotensives by analysis of variance (ANOVA). While the FAVR responses at the lowest doses of both NE and Ang II were similar in hypertensives and normotensives, FAVR responses in hypertensives diverged progressively from the normotensive response pattern, P less than 0.01 according to ANOVA. The hypertensives achieved greater maximum FAVR levels at the highest doses of both agonists, P less than 0.05 according to repeated measures ANOVA. After 10 min of ischaemic exercise, FAVR was higher in hypertensives than in normotensives (2.24 +/- 0.10 versus 1.87 +/- 0.08; P = 0.02, respectively). This value for FAVR was termed the minimum FAVR (mFAVR). The overall response pattern characterized by increased mFAVR, unchanged threshold sensitivity, steeper slope, greater maximum response and similarity of responses to both NE and Ang II is most consistent with a structural augmentation of resistance responses. A model was used in an effort to increase understanding of the vessel morphology. This model suggested that an increased wall/lumen ratio, perhaps without an actual increase in vascular smooth muscle mass, played an important role in the observed FAVR pattern.