OBJECTIVE--To examine the relationship between baroreflex sensitivity and neurohormonal activation in patients with an acute myocardial infarction. METHODS--Baroreflex sensitivity, plasma noradrenaline, atrial natriuretic factor, endothelin-1, and plasma renin activity were measured in 37 male patients about 10 days after their first myocardial infarction, and in 15 healthy controls. Baroreflex sensitivity was assessed from the regression line relating the change in RR interval to the change in systolic blood pressure following an intravenous bolus injection of phenylephrine. The measurements were repeated after a follow up of three months. RESULTS--There was a significant inverse correlation between baroreflex sensitivity and plasma noradrenaline measured before hospital discharge (r = -0.43, P < 0.01). Patients with increased plasma noradrenaline (> or = 2SD above the mean of the age matched control group) had significantly lower baroreflex sensitivity than patients with normal plasma noradrenaline (8.7 (SD 4.6) v 12.1 (6.1) ms/mm Hg, P < 0.05). The change in baroreflex sensitivity during the follow up showed a significant inverse correlation with the change of plasma noradrenaline (r = -0.450, P < 0.01). Furthermore, when patients with increased plasma noradrenaline before hospital discharge were analysed separately, baroreflex sensitivity at three months in patients in whom plasma noradrenaline had decreased to normal values was significantly higher than in patients in whom plasma noradrenaline had remained increased (14.6 (5.7) v 8.1 (8.1) ms/mm Hg, P < 0.05). On the other hand, baroreflex sensitivity was not related to the levels of plasma atrial natriuretic factor, plasma endothelin-1, or plasma renin activity. Neither was any relationship found between change in baroreflex sensitivity and change in plasma atrial natriuretic factor, endothelin-1, or plasma renin activity during the follow up. CONCLUSIONS--The impairment baroreflex sensitivity after myocardial infarction was associated with increased concentration of plasma noradrenaline, that is, sympathetic activation, but not with plasma atrial natriuretic factor, endothelin-1, or plasma renin activity. Baroreflex sensitivity provides information about cardiac vagal control as well as about the balance of cardiac sympathetic-parasympathetic regulation.