We describe a patient with chronic hypernatraemia (plasma sodium 148-155 mmol/l) and partial nephrogenic diabetes insipidus who had received prolonged lithium treatment. Despite stopping the drug for one year the abnormalities remained. Infusion of hypertonic saline (NaCl 855 mmol/l) allowed the characterization of osmoregulation of thirst and vasopressin secretion. Linear regression analysis of plasma vasopressin and osmolality defined the function, pAVP = 0.27 (pOsm - 301), and analysis of thirst measured by a visual analogue scale and plasma osmolality, the function, thirst = 0.16 (pOsm - 302) where pAVP and pOsm represent plasma arginine vasopressin and osmolality respectively. The slopes of the regression lines which describe the sensitivity of the osmoreceptors were within the normal range, but both abscissal intercepts, which define the thresholds for vasopressin release and thirst, were markedly elevated in comparison to normal (upper limit less than 290 mOsm/kg). Other investigations of electrolytes, anterior pituitary function and high definition computed tomographic scanning of hypothalamo-pituitary region were all normal. We conclude that this patient's chronic hypernatraemia was due to resetting of the osmostats for both vasopressin release and thirst, a rarely described mechanism to account for hypernatraemia. Although it is probable that the partial nephrogenic diabetes insipidus was related to prolonged lithium therapy, the cause of the reset osmostats remains unclear.