We previously demonstrated that dietary NaCl supplementation reduces endogenous norepinephrine stores and turnover in the anterior hypothalamic area (AHA) of male NaCl sensitive spontaneously hypertensive rats (SHR-S) but not in NaCl resistant control rats and have implicated this mechanism in the pathogenesis of NaCl sensitive hypertension. In the current study, we tested directly the hypothesis that dietary NaCl supplementation decreases the release of norepinephrine from nerve terminals in the AHA of SHR-S using the push-pull perfusion technique. Conscious, freely moving SHR-S and control Wistar-Kyoto (WKY) rats were studied after 2-3 weeks of 8% or 1% NaCl feeding. In the 1% NaCl fed SHR-S, 3-methoxy-4-hydroxyphenylglycol (MOPEG, the major metabolite of norepinephrine in brain) levels averaged 272 ± 32 pg/10 min; norepinephrine levels, 17 ± 2 pg/10 min; in the 8% NaCl fed SHR-S, MOPEG levels averaged 72 ± 7 pg/10 min; norepinephrine levels were 6 ± 1 pg/10 min. There was a positive linear correlation (r = 0.77; P < 0.01) between MOPEG and norepinephrine levels in AHA perfusates, indicating that perfusate MOPEG levels provide a useful index of norepinephrine release from AHA nerve terminals. In contrast, MOPEG levels in AHA perfusates were not affected by dietary NaCl intake in control WKY, and in control posterior hypothalamic perfusates, were not affected by dietary NaCl intake in SHR-S. These results give the first direct evidence that dietary NaCl supplementation is associated with greatly reduced norepinephrine release from nerve terminals in the AHA in SHR-S, but not in WKY controls, supporting the hypothesis that NaCl sensitive hypertension in this model is mediated by a NaCl induced reduction in AHA mediated inhibition of sympathetic outflow. © 1991.