Malignant hypertension is a rare but serious syndrome complicating 1% of essential hypertension and causing neurological, renal and cardiac complications. Despite improved anti-hypertensive medication, the incidence of this condition fails to decline. In the first part of this review, we discuss transgenic rat models of malignant hypertension, generated by over-expressing renin, to illustrate the role of the reran-angiotensin system in the development of systemic hypertensive vascular remodelling and hypertension. In the second part, we focus on the cerebrovascular response to hypertension and discuss new data using a conditional, transgenic model of malignant hypertension, the inducible hypertensive rat (IHR). Cerebral infarction associates strongly with hypertension in man and the mechanisms by which hypertension predisposes to different types of stroke remains poorly understood. Rats have similar cerebrovascular anatomy and structure to humans and as such provide a good experimental tool. To date, such models lack controllability and blood-pressure matched controls. Using the IHR, we have manipulated dietary salt and water intake to generate a novel, controllable stroke phenotype. Hypertensive small-vessel stroke develops over a predictable time period, permitting the study of developing cerebrovascular lesions. Systemic endorgan injury and hypertension are not affected. Dissociation of the systemic and central vascular responses in this way, will allow for comparative study of animals with equivalent hypertension, genetic background and systemic features of hypertension with or without stroke. (C) 2003 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.