Inhibition of angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) reduces the risk of cardiovascular problems in patients with chronic renal failure. This effect may be due in part to a decrease in sympathetic nervous activity, but no direct evidence of such an action is available. We studied muscle sympathetic-nerve activity in 14 patients with hypertension, chronic renal failure, and increased plasma renin activity before, during, and after administration of the ACE inhibitor enalapril. Ten other patients with similar clinical characteristics were studied before and during treatment with the calcium-channel blocker amlodipine. Normal subjects matched for age and weight were included in both studies. At base line, mean (+/-SD) muscle sympathetic-nerve activity was higher in the group of patients who received enalapril than in the control subjects (35+/-17 vs. 19+/-9 bursts per minute, P=0.004). The baroreflex curve, which reflects changes in muscle sympathetic-nerve activity caused by manipulations of blood pressure with sodium nitroprusside and phenylephrine, was shifted to the right in the patients, but baroreflex sensitivity was similar to that in the control subjects (-2.1+/-1.9 and -2.7+/-1.3 bursts per minute per mm Hg, respectively; P=0.36). A single dose of the sympatholytic drug clonidine caused a greater fall in blood pressure in the patients than in the control subjects. Treatment with enalapril normalized blood pressure and muscle sympathetic-nerve activity (at 23+/-10 bursts per minute) in the patients and shifted the baroreflex curve to the left, reflecting normal blood-pressure levels, without significantly changing sensitivity (-2.3+/-1.8 bursts per minute per mm Hg, P=0.96). In the patients who received amlodipine, treatment also lowered blood pressure but increased muscle sympathetic-nerve activity, from 41+/-19 to 56+/-14 bursts per minute (P=0.02). Increased sympathetic activity contributes to hypertension in patients with chronic renal disease. ACE inhibition controls hypertension and decreases sympathetic hyperactivity.