METHODOLOGY: A new non-invasive ultrasonic device was developed to characterize the biomechanical properties of medium and large peripheral arteries. Simultaneous recordings of internal diameter and blood pressure over the whole cardiac cycle are used to establish compliance-pressure curves. Since blood pressure, which is an inherent co-determinant of arterial compliance, is taken into account, the comparison of arteries from patients with markedly different blood pressures has become possible. In a first study, the effects of three different antihypertensive drugs (20 mg lisinopril, 100 mg atenolol, 20 mg nitrendipine administered once a day) on arterial compliance and distensibility were investigated in young healthy volunteers. RESULTS: After 8 days of treatment, lisinopril induced a significant increase in arterial compliance. Subsequently, we compared the mechanical behaviour of arteries from newly diagnosed hypertensive patients (radial artery) or the carotid artery from spontaneously hypertensive rats (SHR) with that of corresponding arteries in normotensive counterparts. No decrease in arterial distensibility was found in the hypertensive groups over the measured blood pressure range. This result is not totally consistent with previous in vitro or in situ localized studies. Methodological differences, the absence of blood flow and/or denervation may partly explain these contradictory results. Finally, we tested the effects of hydralazine (5 mg/day) and captopril (25 mg/day), administered for 6 weeks in drinking water, on the behaviour of the carotid arteries of 16-week-old SHR. The two drugs effectively reduced blood pressure while shifting the distensibility-pressure curves upward in comparison to the placebo-treated animals, suggesting an improvement in arterial compliance. CONCLUSIONS: While hypertension does not itself appear to alter the elastic behaviour of large peripheral arteries, antihypertensive treatment may increase the compliance of these blood vessels.