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We have recently shown that the spontaneously hypertensive rat (SHR) and the Wistar-Kyoto (WKY) rat differ at a frequency of 1 per 62 bases in their nuclear DNA (Hypertension 1992;19:425-427). Given the origin of these strains this level of divergence was unexpected. To investigate the origin of this nuclear divergence we have examined mitochondrial DNA. Mitochondrial DNA was isolated from SHR and WKY rats, digested with several restriction enzymes, electrophoresed in 1.0% agarose gels, and the fragments visualized with ethidium bromide staining. This approach allowed us to analyze 220 base pairs of mitochondrial DNA. No differences were detected between SHR and WKY rats. Comparison with the King-Holtzman rat strain produced differences at an average of 1 per 52 base pairs. We also examined several SHR and WKY rats from within our colonies and found no differences suggesting intrastrain homogeneity for mitochondrial DNA phenotypes. These data indicate that the SHR and WKY rat share a recent, common maternal ancestor. This result is consistent with the published origins of the SHR and WKY rat strains. Together with the nuclear divergence results, the data suggest that the original Wistar colony from which SHR and WKY rats were derived was probably highly polymorphic for nuclear genes.

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