1. The blood pressure (BP) and heart rate (HR) responses to 5 min incremental intravenous infusions of noradrenaline (NA) and arginine vasopressin (AVP) were investigated both in patients with progressive autonomic failure (PAF) and in normal volunteers.
2. Stepwise infusion of NA at rates of 300–3000 pmol min−1 kg−1 produced a bradycardia and a dose related increase in BP in normal subjects. In subjects with PAF there was no significant HR response but the dose-BP response was shifted to the left with significant pressor responses at infusion rates of 60–300 pmol min−1 kg−1.
3. Stepwise infusion of AVP at 0.2–5.0 pmol min−1 kg−1 caused transient bradycardia but no pressor response in seven normal volunteers. Further increases in AVP infusion in three other subjects achieved plasma AVP levels as high as 3000–4000 pmol/l, and still no significant pressor response was observed.
4. Stepwise infusion of AVP at 0.05–2.0 pmol min−1 kg−1 in the eight subjects with PAF resulted in a pressor response without any change in HR. During this infusion plasma AVP increased from 0.8 ± 0.2 (mean ± se) to 30 ± 2 pmol/l. A significant pressor response was already apparent at a plasma AVP level of 5.5 ± 1.8 pmol/l.