Reexpression of the fetal beta-myosin heavy chain (beta-MHC) gene was reported to be a marker for phenotypic reprogramming and cardiac hypertrophy in rats. Recent in vitro studies strongly suggested a role of angiotensin II for phenotypic reprogramming. In the present investigation, beta-MHC gene expression was studied in an experimental model of pressure-over-load hypertrophy that is not associated with a concurrent activation of the circulating renin-angiotensin system. Hypertrophy was induced in rats by ascending aortic banding (n = 40). After 7 days, myosin contained 31% (P < .05) of the beta-MHC isoform in banded but < 5% in sham-operated animals. However, no specific elevation of beta-MHC mRNA levels was found in banded animals. In contrast, hearts of rats with abdominal aortic banding displayed a marked increase in beta-MHC mRNA levels (3-fold to 5-fold, P < .05). Both the left ventricular weight and left ventricular peak systolic pressure were significantly elevated compared with sham-operated animals (abdominal aortic banding, +13% and 164 +/- 7 mm Hg; ascending aortic banding, +27% and 191 +/- 9 mm Hg). Plasma renin activity was elevated in rats with abdominal aortic banding (2.5-fold, P < .05) but not in rats with ascending aortic banding. The results of the present work do not support the concept that increased beta-MHC gene expression is a general "stable late marker" of myocardial hypertrophy in rats. Our results suggest that the stimulation of the renin-angiotensin system is crucial for the activation of the beta-MHC gene.