1. To examine the metabolic effects of increases in circulating endogenous plasma catecholamines, we measured plasma glucose, potassium and magnesium in 14 patients undergoing elective coronary artery bypass grafting. The patients were randomized into two groups and received either sodium nitroprusside (a direct-acting vasodilator) or trimetaphan camsylate (a ganglion-blocking agent) for routine control of blood pressure during the operation. 2. There were significant differences between the two groups in the levels of all three metabolic variables studied. Plasma glucose levels rose in both groups, but were significantly higher in the sodium nitroprusside group [peak levels 9.14 ( sem 0.72)mmol/l compared with 6.71 (0.88) mmol/l, P < 0.001, analysis of variance]. The cardioplegia solution caused a large increase in plasma magnesium in both groups but in the sodium nitroprusside group the level rose higher [to 1.59 (0.12)mmol/l compared with 1.34 (0.06)mmol/l] and fell faster ( P < 0.05, analysis of variance). In the group receiving sodium nitroprusside, plasma potassium fell, by a mean of 0.34 mmol/l, as plasma catecholamine levels rose; no such fall was seen in the group receiving trimetaphan camsylate ( P < 0.05, analysis of variance). 3. It is concluded that the sympathoadrenal system is important in causing metabolic changes during cardiopulmonary bypass and may be relevant in other conditions such as acute myocardial infarction.