1. To define the role of circulating noradrenaline in cardiovascular regulation, threshold concentrations for haemodynamic effects were determined in arterial and venous plasma of eight healthy volunteers.
2. Five doses of noradrenaline, 0–54 ng min−1 kg−1, were infused intravenously in random order and single-blind for 15 min per dose. Changes in intra-arterial blood pressure, heart rate, forearm blood flow and forearm vascular resistance were determined, and plasma noradrenaline was measured in arterial and venous blood samples.
3. Significant increases in systolic and diastolic blood pressure were found at arterial and venous plasma noradrenaline concentrations (means ±sem) of 3.00 ± 0.23 and 1.35 ±0.12 nmol/l, respectively. A significant decrease in heart rate was found at arterial and venous plasma noradrenaline concentrations of 8.99 ± 0.69 and 3.09 ± 0.60 nmol/l, respectively. The lower doses of noradrenaline tended to increase forearm blood flow and to decrease forearm vascular resistance, whereas the higher doses had no consistent effect on forearm haemodynamics.
4. During the noradrenaline infusions 73 ± 5% of the increase in arterial plasma noradrenaline concentration was extracted in the forearm.
5. The venous plasma noradrenaline threshold concentration was found to be much lower than previously reported. It is concluded that arterial and venous plasma noradrenaline concentrations which are readily encountered in physiological circumstances elicit haemodynamic effects.