To investigate the role of cytosolic free calcium, [Ca2+]i, in secondary hypertension, the levels in platelets from 14 secondary hypertensives (7 renovascular hypertension, 7 primary aldosteronism) were compared with those from 21 essential hypertensives and 15 normotensives by means of the fluorescent indicator, quin-2. The mean BP was significantly higher in both the secondary hypertensives and essential hypertensives (122 +/- 8 and 124 +/- 12 mmHg) than in the normotensives (89 +/- 10 mmHg). Cytosolic free calcium in platelets was significantly higher in the essential hypertensives, but not in the secondary hypertensives, compared with the normotensives (182 +/- 34, 141 +/- 17, 138 +/- 15 nM respectively). There was no significant difference in platelet [Ca2+]i between renovascular hypertension and aldosteronism (142 +/- 19 versus 139 +/- 16 nM). There was no correlation between platelet [Ca2+]i and plasma renin activity, plasma aldosterone concentration or plasma noradrenaline concentration in the three groups. Thus, the increase in platelet [Ca2+]i seen in essential hypertension was not found in patients with secondary hypertension. Our results suggest that the cytosolic calcium handling of secondary hypertensive patients with renal artery stenosis or primary aldosteronism differs from that of essential hypertensives.