1. Sodium-lithium countertransport activity in a standard assay, its sodium affinity constant and maximum velocity were measured in erythrocytes from normal subjects and from essential hypertensive patients with and without a family history of hypertension.
2. In normal subjects the sodium concentration used in the standard assay was similar to the sodium affinity constant so that the activity measured in this assay was less than the maximum velocity.
3. In patients with essential hypertension and a positive family history, 33% had a sodium-lithium countertransport activity greater than the upper limit of the normal control range (0.4 mmol of Li+ h−1 l−1 of cells).
4. The reason for the raised sodium-lithium countertransport activity was an increased sodium affinity (lower sodium affinity constant) at the outside ion-binding site.
5. Of the patients with essential hypertension and a positive family history but sodium-lithium countertransport activity within the normal range in the standard assay, 30% also had a low sodium affinity constant.
6. A low sodium affinity constant at the outside site of the sodium-lithium countertransporter may be a more specific indicator for a group of patients with inherited hypertension than the standard sodium-lithium countertransport activity assay.