Angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors (ACE-I) and specific nonpeptide angiotensin II (ANG II) receptor antagonists have been used extensively to treat a variety of cardiovascular disorders in experimental animals and humans. Despite their widespread use, only a limited amount of data has been published regarding the effect that renin-angiotensin system (RAS) blockade may have on ANG II receptors, and very often this information is contradictory. The present study was designed to investigate whether changes in plasma ANG II levels induced by RAS blockade could alter glomerular ANG II receptor characteristics. Captopril was employed as an ACE-I with losartan and TCV-116, two AT1 receptor antagonists of different chemical structure. Two experimental protocols were established. Protocol 1 contained 3 experimental groups: controls (Sprague-Dawley rats, 250-300 g BW), and animals treated with either captopril (0.5 g/l via drinking water) or losartan (10 mg/kg BW p.o.). In protocol 2, the animals were treated as in protocol 1 except that losartan was replaced by TCV-116 (1 mg/kg BW p.o.). At the end of treatment (3 days), all groups were killed by decapitation, blood was collected for plasma renin activity (PRA) measurement, and hearts and kidneys were excised. ANG II receptors were assessed by radioligand binding assays on membrane preparations of purified glomeruli, by displacement of 125I-[Sar1, Ile8]-ANG II with specific nonpeptide antagonists of AT1 (losartan) and AT2 (PD 123319) receptor subtypes. RAS blockade by either ACE-I or AT1 antagonists increased PRA. The binding assays showed that renal glomeruli from treated rats and controls expressed a single population (AT1) of ANG II receptors. The density of glomerular AT1 receptors was not modulated by captopril, but was significantly lower in animals treated with either losartan (Bmax: 854 +/- 169 vs. 379 +/- 79 fmol/mg protein and Kd: 59 +/- 6 vs. 45 +/- 6 nM for controls and losartan, respectively) or TCV-116 (480 +/- 72 vs. 188 +/- 16 fmol/mg protein and Kd: 45 +/- 9 vs. 37 +/- 18 nM for controls and TCV-116, respectively) than in their controls. No changes in receptor affinity (Kd) were detected. Previous membrane "acid-wash" did not modify the results. We conclude that short-term RAS blockade by AT1 antagonists, but not by ACE-I, induces true downregulation of renal glomerular ANG II receptors. No AT2 receptor subtype was detected.