The density of catecholamine-containing nerve fibers was studied in the cerebral and mesenteric arteries from normotensive Wistar–Kyoto rats (WKY), spontaneously hypertensive rats (SHR), and stroke-prone SHR (SHRSP) in the growing (SHR, WKY) and adult (SHR, SHRSP, WKY) animals. Cerebral arteries from SHR showed an increased adrenergic innervation from day 1. The nerve plexuses reached an adult pattern earlier in SHR than in WKY. The arteries from adult SHR and SHRSP (22 weeks old) showed a markedly higher nerve density than WKY. There was a positive linear correlation between blood pressure and nerve density for four cerebral arteries. The mesenteric arteries were not innervated at birth. However, hyperinnervation of these arteries in the SHR was already present at 10 days of age as compared with WKY. Sympathectomy with anti-nerve growth factor and guanethidine caused a complete disappearance of fluorescent fibers in the mesenteric arteries from SHR and WKY, and in the cerebral arteries of WKY. The same procedure caused only partial denervation of the cerebral arteries from hypertensive animals. We postulate that the increase in nerve density in the cerebral arteries from the hypertensive rats may contribute to the development of arterial hypertrophy in chronic hypertension through the trophic effect of the sympathetic innervation on vascular structure.Key words: sympathetic innervation, cerebral artery, mesenteric artery, spontaneously hypertensive rat, neonatal rat.