1. The responses to stimulation of both cardiac and lymphocyte β-adrenoceptors were studied in 23 normal subjects and 23 with untreated essential hypertension. Lymphocyte cyclic adenosine monophosphate was measured in vitro after incubation with isoprenaline (0.01 μmol/l-10 mmol/l). There were no significant differences between the amount of cyclic adenosine monophosphate generated by lymphocytes in the two groups in the isoprenaline concentration range 0.01 μmol/l-1 mmol/l.
2. In the same subjects we compared cardiac β-adrenoceptor-mediated responses using the change in heart rate after bolus doses of isoprenaline (dose range 0.25–3 μg). In 12 subjects (six normotensive, six hypertensive) we studied the heart rate responses to isoprenaline before and after ‘total’ autonomic block (0.04 mg of atropine/kg and 300 μg of clonidine). The latter permitted assessment of intrinsic cardiac responsiveness after eliminating cardiovascular reflexes.
3. In subjects with reflexes intact the rise in heart rate was significantly greater in normal than in hypertensive subjects at all doses of isoprenaline. Isoprenaline evoked a similar dose-related fall in blood pressure in both groups, which contributed to the reflex drive. After autonomic block the differences in heart rate responses were no longer present.
4. The results indicate that the reduced tachycardia at a given dose of isoprenaline in hypertensive subjects is due to impairment in their baroreceptor—heart rate reflex since this was no longer present after atropine and clonidine.
5. The absence of any intrinsic difference in cardiac β-adrenoceptor responsiveness is in agreement with the results with lymphocytes.