The renin–angiotensin system is implicated in the pathophysiology of hypertension. Renin release is regulated by a number of factors, including circulating Ang II (angiotensin II), the so-called short feedback loop. The aim of the present study was to investigate the responsiveness of circulating Ang II on PRA (plasma renin activity) in normotensive subjects with a PFH or NFH (positive or negative family history of hypertension respectively). PRA, renal haemodynamics and urinary sodium excretion were measured during infusion of Ang II without and with pretreatment with the AT1 (Ang II type 1) receptor blocker irbesartan. Normotensive men with a PFH ( n =13) and NFH ( n =10), with a mean age of 38 years, were given on different occasions intravenous Ang II infusions of 0.1, 0.5 and 1.0 ng·kg −1 of body weight·min −1 before and after pretreatment with 150 mg of irbesartan once a day for 5 consecutive days. RPF (renal plasma flow) and GFR (glomerular filtration rate) were also measured. Before Ang II infusion, the PFH and NFH groups did not differ with respect to BP (blood pressure), body mass index, PRA, RBF (renal blood flow) or urinary sodium. There was no difference in BP or renal haemodynamic response to the highest Ang II dose between the groups. PRA declined with the highest Ang II dose ( P <0.01) in subjects with a NFH, but not in subjects with a PFH. After treatment with irbesartan when Ang II had no effect on BP in either group, Ang II also suppressed PRA in subjects with a PFH ( P <0.01), and the difference between the groups at baseline was thus eliminated. In conclusion, these findings indicate that subjects with a PFH have a defective Ang II suppression of PRA, which is corrected by AT1 receptor blockade.