To determine the effect of the duration and severity of hypertension on arterial wall metabolism 28 enzyme activities and several macromolecular complexes were histochemically studied in normotensive (WK), moderately (SHR) and strongly hypertensive (SP-SHR) rats at various ages. The results indicate that the abnormalities of 5' nucleotidase, acid esterase, cholinesterase and Alk.P. appeared in prehypertensive 4 w.old SHR. The posthypertensive changes, fluctuating in relation to the duration of hypertension, concerned: the pentose pathway, Krebs cycle and glycolosis -linked dehydrogenases; lysosomal enzymes; glycogen-phosphorylase and MAO; glycosaminoglycan and glycoprotein content. The structural and metabolic response presented several local and regional differences. The metabolic changes were greater in the aorta than in the caudal and femoral arteries. The comparison between SHR and SP-SHR indicates that the blood pressure (BP) at 170 mm Hg seems well tolerated during a long period of time. Severe lesions such as degeneration and failure of lipolytic activity in aortic smooth muscle cells (SMC), notable and early (8 mo.) in SP-SHR with 240 mm Hg were less intense and appeared later (13 mo.) in SHR with 190 mm Hg. The level of hypertension, rather than its duration, appears as a determining factor of posthypertensive vascular damage.