1. Plasma noradrenaline concentration and plasma renin activity were measured in a control, British, urban population (n = 115) in which blacks were matched for age and sex with whites.
2. Similar measurements were made in subjects with essential hypertension (77 white and 23 black), and 48 healthy normotensive white civil servants.
3. In controls blood pressure was significantly higher in blacks; it correlated with age in both races and with pulse rate in blacks. There were no significant racial differences in plasma noradrenaline which was positively correlated with age in both blacks and whites. Mean plasma renin activity was 55% lower in blacks, and this difference was not related to urinary sodium excretion.
4. In hypertensive subjects plasma noradrenaline positively correlated with age in blacks. This relationship was not found in whites in whom 20% of young hypertensive subjects (<45 years) had significantly raised plasma noradrenaline. Plasma renin activity was again significantly lower in blacks. In white hypertensives plasma noradrenaline and renin activity were significantly correlated.
5. There may be racial differences in the pathogenesis of essential hypertension.