The regulation of extracellular fluid volume by renal sodium excretion lies at the centre of blood pressure homeostasis. Renal perfusion pressure can directly regulate sodium reabsorption in the proximal tubule. This acute pressure natriuresis response is a uniquely powerful means stabilizing long-term blood pressure around a set point. By logical extension, deviation from the set point can only be sustained if the pressure natriuresis mechanism is impaired, suggesting that hypertension is caused or sustained by a defect in the relationship between renal perfusion pressure and sodium excretion. Here we describe the role of pressure natriuresis in blood pressure control and outline the cascade of biophysical and paracrine events in the renal medulla that integrate the vascular and tubular response to altered perfusion pressure. Pressure natriuresis is impaired in hypertension and mechanistic insight into dysfunction comes from genetic analysis of blood pressure disorders. Transplantation studies in rats show that blood pressure is determined by the genotype of the kidney and Mendelian hypertension indicates that the distal nephron influences the overall natriuretic efficiency. These approaches and the outcomes of Genome-wide-association studies broaden our view of blood pressure control, suggesting that renal sympathetic nerve activity and local inflammation can impair pressure natriuresis to cause hypertension. Understanding how these systems interact is necessary to tackle the global burden of hypertension. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.