We studied the circulatory effects of chronic lesions of the ascending noradrenergic (NA) projections to the forebrain on the acute effects of intracisternal (i.c.) alpha-methyldopa (alpha-MD) and 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA) on mean arterial pressure (MAP) and heart rate (HR) in conscious rabbits with arterial baroreceptors either intact or denervated (sinoaortic denervation, SAD). Both drugs acutely release neurotransmitter from central NA neurons. I.c. 6-OHDA produced acute hypertension and bradycardia while i.c. alpha-MD produced acute hypotension and bradycardia. The responses are qualitatively similar in SAD rabbits except that after 6-OHDA, HR increased. In another group we studied the effects of the drugs 3-4 weeks after localised injections of 6-OHDA in the midbrain dorsal and ventral NA bundles. Local 6-OHDA depleted forebrain regions of NA by 44-76%, and had no effects on basal values of MAP or HR. The pressor and depressor effects, of 6-OHDA and alpha-MD respectively, were little affected by the lesions in either intact or SAD rabbits. By contrast, in rabbits with intact baroreceptors, the lesion abolished the bradycardia produced by i.c. alpha-MD and 6-OHDA. The latter drug now produced a late tachycardia. In SAD rabbits, however, there was no effect on the alpha-MD-induced bradycardia, but the 6-OHDA tachycardia was enhanced. Since the major effects of the lesions were confined to the rabbits with intact baroreceptor afferents, it suggests that the ascending NA pathways are important for the cardiac responses dependent on baroreceptor input. In intact animals, both drugs produce bradycardia through facilitation of the vagal component of the baroreceptor-heart rate reflex. In SAD rabbits, almost all the changes to HR are mediated through the cardiac sympathetic and the lesions have little effect on HR.