We investigated the relation between involuntary dehydration and the mechanisms affecting Na+ retention in the body, focusing on the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system. Six adult males were dehydrated to 2.3% of their body weight by an exercise-heat regimen, followed by rehydration (180 min) with tap water (H2O-R) or 0.45% NaCl solution (Na-R). We measured plasma renin activity (PRA) and aldosterone levels (PA) before dehydration (control), after dehydration, and at 60, 120, and 180 min of rehydration. During the 3-h rehydration period, subjects, restored 51% of the water lost during H2O-R and 71% during Na-R (P less than 0.05). Plasma volume was reduced by an average of 4.5% after dehydration. After 180 min of rehydration, plasma volume restoration during Na-R was to 174% of that lost, and during H2O-R it was to 78% of that lost. We found significant correlations between the change in plasma volume and PRA (r = -0.70, P less than 0.001) and between PRA and PA (r = 0.71, P less than 0.001). In both recovery conditions, PRA increased significantly after dehydration (P less than 0.05) and decreased almost to the control level by 180 min of rehydration, at which time the plasma volume deficit was restored. The change in PA paralleled that in PRA. The rate of sodium excretion was correlated with PA levels in both groups (r = -0.58, P less than 0.01).(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)