The characteristics of [125I]monoiodocyanopindolol (ICYP) binding to β-adrenoceptors of cultured aortic smooth muscle cells derived from 4-week-old spontaneously hypertensive rats (SHR) and the Wistar–Kyoto normotensive rats (WKY) were examined. During optimization of the binding assays, we found that the specific binding of ICYP by intact cells was masked by a high level of nonspecific ICYP accumulation in intact cells presumably owing to the lipophilic nature of ICYP. Optimal specific ICYP binding requires that the cells be gently lysed with hypotonic dilution followed by a freeze-and-thaw cycle. Under most experimental conditions tested, the total number of ICYP binding sites in WKY aortic muscle cells was considerably and consistently smaller than that in SHR cells. There was no difference in the Kd values for ICYP binding to SHR and WKY cells. However, when ICYP binding was carried out using crude membrane fractions with well-defined plasma-membrane content isolated from aortic muscle strips of adult rats, we found no difference in the number of β-adrenoceptor sites between SHR and WKY. Morphological evidence indicated that cultured SHR aortic muscle cells contained a greater proportion of larger cells with multinuclear features. These results suggest that an increase in the number of β-adrenoceptor density per cell in SHR may be associated with cellular hypertrophy of aortic smooth muscle cells. We conclude that under cultured conditions, a higher incidence of polyploid smooth muscle cells in the SHR as compared with WKY was expressed earlier than under in vivo conditions. Therefore, the interpretation of results obtained from cultured cell studies in relation to under in vivo conditions should be exercised with caution.Key words: β-adrenoceptor, vascular smooth muscle, aorta, cell membranes, hypertension, hypertrophy.