BACKGROUND Antihypertensive drugs may have differential, pressure-independent effects on hypertension-associated alterations of arterial function. We compared the effects of a 12-week therapy with the AT(1)-receptor antagonist valsartan (Val) versus the beta-blocker metoprolol (Met) on arterial stiffness and endothelial function in mildly hypertensive patients at rest and during generalized sympathetic stimulation. METHODS Sixty-eight patients (37 male, 31 female, 46 +/- 6 years) were randomized to Val (80-160 mg/d) or Met (50-100 mg/d). Effects of therapy on endothelial function, brachial and carotid artery distensibility coefficients, pulse wave velocity, carotid intima-media thickness and elastic modulus were assessed at rest and during the cold pressor test. RESULTS Fifty-two patients were available for per protocol analysis. Blood pressure was comparably reduced in both treatment groups. Effects on endothelial function and large artery elastic wall properties did not differ significantly between the two antihypertensive treatment regimens. Trends did not differ significantly between groups for any parameter including carotid intima-media thickness and elastic modulus. CONCLUSION Short-term treatment with Val and Met had similar effects on large artery functional vessel wall properties in a population of mildly hypertensive patients.