We studied the differential involvement of central dopaminergic activation and autonomic nervous system regulatory mechanisms in the cardiovascular responses to cocaine in conscious rats. Sprague-Dawley rats, Wistar-Kyoto rats (WKY) and spontaneously hypertensive rats (SHR) were instrumented with catheters in the jugular vein and abdominal aorta at least 5 days before the experiment. Intravenous administration of cocaine (0.1-3.0 mg/kg) caused a dose-dependent increase in blood pressure that was biphasic, with a large and rapid increase peaking at 10 s, followed by a mild sustained pressor response. Pressor responses to cocaine were significantly greater in SHR when compared to WKY rats. However, pretreatment with dopamine D1 receptor antagonist SCH 23390 or the D2 receptor antagonist raclopride did not influence the effects of cocaine. Pretreatment with the alpha-adrenoceptor antagonist phentolamine or the ganglion blocker pentolinium blocked the peak response and reversed the more sustained response into a depressor effect. While pretreatment with propranolol alone did not alter the responses to cocaine, in rats pretreated with phentolamine and propranolol neither a pressor response nor a depressor response was observed. In conclusion, cocaine administration caused marked, but short lasting pressor responses that were mediated by sympathetic activation and alpha-adrenoceptor vasoconstriction with little involvement of central dopaminergic mechanisms. The rapid return of blood pressure towards baseline may be mediated by sympathoinhibition and beta-adrenoceptor-mediated vasodilatation, the latter of which being particularly prominent when alpha-adrenoceptor activation was prevented.