Exposure to undernutrition during fetal life has been proposed as an underlying cause of adult hypertension. Epidemiological studies demonstrating relationships between low birth weight and later CVD are supported by animal experiments indicating that manipulations of the maternal diet in pregnancy exert programming effects upon blood pressure control. Pregnant female Wistar rats were fed a control diet (n 13) or a low-protein diet (n 12) throughout pregnancy. At delivery all animals were fed the same standard laboratory chow diet. Analysis of nephron number in kidneys obtained from 4-week-old offspring showed that this was significantly (P<0·05) reduced in animals exposed to maternal protein restriction. At this age rats exposed to low-protein diets in utero had systolic blood pressures that were significantly greater than those of control animals (+23 mmHg, P<0·05). Administration of ascending doses of angiotensin II (1–40 ng/kg body weight intravenously) to 10-week-old anaesthetised female rats showed that the pressor response to the peptide was greater and more prolonged in animals exposed to low-protein diets in utero. Renal expression of mRNA for the angiotensin II type 1A receptor was similar in the two groups of rats, but low-protein-exposed animals had significantly lower renal expression of the type 2 receptor (P=0·023). These results suggest that maternal nutritional status programmes expression of the renal angiotensin II type 2 receptor. This may play a key role in the impairment of renal development and the elevation of blood pressure noted in rats exposed to intra-uterine protein restriction.