The purpose of the study was to evalute the impact of the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone (RAA) system on blood pressure (BP) response in patients with hypertensive emergencies and urgencies treated with intravenous enalaprilat. Thirty-five patients with a systolic BP (SBP) >210 mm Hg and/or diastolic BP (DBP) >110 mm Hg received 5 mg enalaprilat intravenously. The extent of systolic and DBP reduction was correlated with pretreatment concentrations of angiotensin II (ANGII) (SBP: r = -0.47; P = 0.006; DBP: r = -0.55; P = 0.001) and plasma renin activity (PRA) (SBP: r = -0.49; P = 0.003; DBP: r = 0.48; P = 0.007). Non-responders to enalaprilat exhibited significant lower pretreatment levels of PRA, angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) and ANG II compared to responders (PRA: 5.5 +/- 3.7 vs 1.1 +/- 2.2 ng/ml/h, P < 0.001; ACE: 12.8 +/- 3.5 vs 8.2 +/- 4.8 U/l, P = 0.003; ANG 11:8.7 +/- 6.2 vs 5.0 +/- 3.8 pg/ml, P = 0.04). In patients with severe hypotension following application of enalaprilat ANG II concentrations were significantly higher compared to patients with mean arterial BP reduction <25% (12.3 +/- 6.7 vs 5.6 +/- 4.0 pg/ml,P = 0.013). These data indicate that PRA and ANG II are the major determinants for BP response to enalaprilat. This relation between BP response and RAA system activity have important clinical implications for the treatment of patients with severe hypertension. Primary therapeutic failure indicates that the RAA system contributes very little to the hypertensive status of the patient. Thus, repetitive application on an ACE inhibitor in primary responders is clinically unhelpful and may result in an unnecessary delay of an effective BP reduction. In contrast, high ANG II concentrations are associated with a considerable risk for severe hypotension after enolanalaprilat application. Therefore, the status of the RAA system determines the efficacy as well as the safety of ACE inhibitor treatment in patients with severe hypertension.