Various researchers have hypothesized that the thickening of the vascular wall plays an important role in the maintenance of hypertension. Such an alteration can increase the vascular resistance by exerting two effects. A thickened vascular wall could occlude the lumen of the blood vessel and (or) cause the artery to hyperreact to contractile stimuli. Until recently, it has been a general conclusion that such alterations were a secondary adaptation produced by the elevation of blood pressure. Consistent with this view, certain classes of larger arteries do exhibit a thickened vascular wall late during hypertension development and such changes can be prevented from occurring by antihypertensive treatment. However, recent studies involving the mesenteric and renal arteries of Wistar-Kyoto spontaneously hypertensive rats have shown that wall thickening of the vasculature occurs prior to hypertension development and is present even under conditions where the blood pressure has been normalized throughout the animal's life. These latter observations suggest that some structural alterations in the blood vessels observed in hypertension are pressure independent and could be of etiological importance in the initiation of hypertension.