We studied the effect of chronic nitric oxide synthase (NOS) blockade in the brain on mean arterial pressure [MAP (mmHg)], heart rate [HR (bpm)] and baroreceptor reflex sensitivity [BRS (mean slope: bpm/mmHg)] in Wistar-Kyoto (WKY) and spontaneously hypertensive rats (SHR). Intracerebroventricular (i.c.v.) infusion of the nonselective NOS inhibitor N-Nitro-L-arginine-methylester (L-NAME) (50 microg/kg per day, 11-12 days) increased MAP in WKY and SHR (125+/-2.1 vs 118+/-1.1 controls, P<0.01 and 179+/-3.59 vs 156+/-4.0 controls, P<0.001, respectively) without affecting HR. In L-NAME-treated WKY, BRS to bradycardia was suppressed (-0.79+/-0.09 vs -1.76+/-0.17 controls, P=0.001), whereas in SHR, L-NAME did not affect BRS to bradycardia. BRS to tachycardia remained unaffected in either strain. In WKY, 7-nitroindazole (7-NI x Na+) (34 microg i.c.v./kg per day, 11-12 days), a selective nNOS inhibitor, did not affect MAP or HR, but BRS to bradycardia and tachycardia was decreased (-0.37+/-0.20 vs -0.97+/-0.41 controls, P<0.01 and -1.78+/-0.20 vs -2.52+/-0.40 controls, P=0.05, respectively). In SHR, the same dose of 7-NI x Na+ increased resting MAP (171+/-5.00 vs 150+/-7.00 controls, P<0.05) without affecting HR or BRS to bradycardia or tachycardia. Thus in WKY, BRS to acute changes in systemic blood pressure (BP) is regulated by NO produced by nNOS in the brain, serving as a neurotransmitter in sympathetic and parasympathetic efferent pathways. In SHR, systemic BP is regulated in part by NO released by the type I NOS isoenzyme in the brain.