Graded concentrations to cumulative additions of calcium in the presence of KCl were obtained in strips of aorta and mesenteric arteries of normotensive (WKY) and spontaneously hypertensive (SHR) rats. In calcium-free medium, a maximally effective concentration of KCl produced a response that was larger in the mesenteric arteries (43-51% of control) than in the aorta (12-14% of control). The calcium channel blocker nifedipine (NFD, up to 10-7 M) did not significantly alter these calcium-insensitive responses. The Ca2+-induced responses were inhibited by NFD, in a concentration-dependent fashion, in both vessel types of WKY and SHR rats. The aortic responses were more sensitive to inhibition by NFD than the respones of mesenteric arteries. Moreover, the aortic responses of WKY were inhibited to a greater extent than those of the SHR. The results suggest: (a) a differential calcium dependence of contractions to KCl in the vessels studied; (b) that aortic responses are dependent on NFD-sensitive voltage-sensitive Ca2+ channels to a greater extent than the responses of mesenteric arteries; and (c) that hypertension results in a decreased sensitivity of the aorta Ca2+ channels to NFD.