We previously observed that the renal nerves facilitate sodium retention and contribute to the development of DOCA-salt hypertension in the rat. To determine whether the renal nerves also participate in the maintenance of DOCA-salt hypertension, we studied the effects of renal denervation after 3 or 10 weeks of DOCA-salt treatment on systolic blood pressure, urinary sodium excretion, creatinine clearance, and precapillary arteriolar wall/lumen ratios of renal, hindlimb muscle, and cremaster muscle vascular beds. Systolic blood pressures of animals given DOCA-salt reached a plateau by 3 weeks of treatment at which time a sham operation or renal denervation was performed. Sham operation in hypertensive animals resulted in no change in systolic blood pressure and no change in percent sodium intake excreted. Wall/lumen ratio of the renal precapillary arteriole in sham-operated hypertensive animals was increased compared to similar sized vessels in hindlimb and cremaster muscle. In contrast, renal denervation resulted in a natriuresis and an attenuation of the hypertension (208 ± 7 to 187 ± 7 mm Hg; p < 0.01). Wall/lumen ratio of the renal capillary arterioles in renal denervated animals was no different than similar sized vessels in hindlimb and cremaster muscle and significantly less than that seen in sham-operated animals (0.85 ± 0.05 vs 1.03 ± 0.06; p < 0.05). In another group of animals, sham operation or renal denervation was performed after 10 weeks of DOCA-salt treatment. At this time neither operation altered systolic blood pressure or sodium balance. In contrast to 3-week DOCA-salt-treated hypertensive sham-operated animals, renal precapillary arteriolar wall/lumen ratio of 10-week animals was no different than similar sized vessels in hindlimb and cremaster muscle. In addition, renal precapillary arteriolar wall/lumen ratio of 10-week DOCA-salt-treated renal-denervated animals was no different than that seen in 10-week DOCA-salt-treated sham-operated hypertensive animals. Creatinine clearance of the 10-week DOCA-salt-treated sham-operated or renal-denervated animals was significantly (p < 0.01) lower than that of the 3-week DOCA-salt-treated groups (0.25 ± 0.14 vs 1.03 ± 0.10 ml/min). These data suggest that the renal nerves contribute to the early established phase of DOCA-salt hypertension by shifting the arterial pressure-renal sodium excretion curve to the right. With time, the renal nerves play a diminishing role in the maintenance of established DOCA-salt hypertension in the rat, while other renal factors, including decreased glomerular filtration rate and probable fixed renal vascular changes, play an increasingly important role.