Embryonic hypothalamic tissue originating from spontaneously hypertensive rats (SHR) was implanted in young normotensive Wistar Kyoto rats in an attempt to localize hypothalamic regions directly responsible for the induction of hypertension. A 25% increase in host systolic blood pressure as compared with the controls was recorded 3 months after implantation in the animals receiving rostral hypothalamic tissue (R-SHR), whereas blood pressure was not affected in the animals grafted with caudal hypothalamic tissue (C-SHR). The hypertension in the R-SHR group was accompanied by hypertrophy of the heart and kidneys. The number of vasopressin-immunopositive (VPi) parvocellular cells in the hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus (PVN) of the R-SHR group was massively reduced (by 72%), while that of the tyrosine hydroxylase-immunopositive cells displayed no change. In the suprachiasmatic nucleus of these animals the VPi cell number was unaltered. In the C-SHR, the amount of parvocellular VPi cells was also unaltered. Likewise, oxytocin-containing cells were the same in all groups. DNA nick-end labeling of the tissue revealed that PVN cells are undergoing programmed cell death. These results implicate a selective degeneration by hypothalamic PVN cells in the pathogenesis of hypertension.