We have studied the localization, kinetics, and regulation of receptors for the circulating form of the atrial natriuretic peptide (99-126) in the rat brain. Atrial natriuretic peptide receptors were discretely localized in the rat brain, with the highest concentrations in circumventricular organs, the choroid plexus, and selected hypothalamic nuclei involved in the production of the antidiuretic hormone vasopressin and in blood pressure control. Spontaneously (genetic) hypertensive rats showed much lower numbers of atrial natriuretic peptide receptors than normotensive controls in the subfornical organ, the area postrema, the nucleus of the solitary tract, and in the choroid plexus. These changes are in contrast with those observed for receptors of angiotensin II, another circulating peptide with actions opposite to those of the atrial natriuretic peptide. In acute dehydration after water deprivation, as well as in chronic dehydration such as that present in homozygous Brattleboro rats, there was an up-regulation of atrial natriuretic peptide receptors in the subfornical organ. Thus, circumventricular organs contain atrial natriuretic peptide receptors that could respond to variations in the concentration of circulating peptide. The localization of atrial natriuretic peptide receptors and the alterations in their regulation present in hypertensive and dehydrated rats indicate that these brain receptors are related to fluid regulation, including the secretion of vasopressin, and to cardiovascular function. Atrial natriuretic peptide receptors in the choroid plexus may be related to the formation of cerebrospinal fluid.