The purpose of this study was to determine whether or not caffeine would exacerbate renovascular hypertension. Therefore, we examined the effects of chronic caffeine administration on arterial blood pressure in rats subjected to either unilateral renal artery clipping (2K-1C rats) or sham-operation. Animals in each group were randomly assigned to receive either 0.1% caffeine in their drinking water or normal drinking water, and systolic blood pressure was monitored for 6 wk. Caffeine markedly exacerbated the severity of hypertension in 2K-1C rats and caused histological changes consistent with malignant hypertension. 6 wk after surgery, systolic blood pressure, plasma renin activity, and creatinine clearance in control 2K-1C rats were 169 +/- 5 mmHg (mean +/- SEM), 4.4 +/- 0.5 ng AI X ml-1 X h-1, and 2.9 +/- 0.2 ml/min, respectively; as compared with 219 +/- 4 mmHg, 31.8 +/- 7.8 ng AI X ml-1 X h-1, and 1.4 +/- 0.3 ml/min, respectively, in 2K-1C rats receiving caffeine (all values were significantly different compared with control 2K-1C). Chronic caffeine administration did not alter systolic blood pressure, plasma renin activity, or creatinine clearance in sham-operated rats or spontaneously hypertensive rats. Chronic treatment with enalapril (a converting enzyme inhibitor) prevented the development of hypertension in control 2K-1C rats and caffeine-treated 2K-1C rats; however, withdrawal of enalapril precipitated a rapid rise in systolic blood pressure in caffeine-treated 2K-1C rats, but not in control 2K-1C rats. These experiments indicate that caffeine specifically exacerbates experimental renovascular hypertension and might worsen the hypertensive process in patients with renovascular hypertension.