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To examine the influence of the autonomic nervous system on ultradian and circadian rhythms of blood pressure, heart rate and baroreflex sensitivity of heart rate (BRS) in spontaneously hypertensive rats (SHR).Spontaneous fluctuations in blood pressure, heart rate and BRS in SHR were recorded continuously for 24 h using a computerized system and compared with those in Wistar–Kyoto (WKY) rats. Furthermore, 24 h recordings were performed in SHR during cardiac autonomic blockade by metoprolol and methyl-atropine, vascular autonomic blockade by prazosin, ganglionic blockade by hexamethonium and vagal stimulation by a low dose of scopolamine. The magnitudes of the ultradian fluctuations in blood pressure, heart rate and BRS were assessed by wide-band spectral analysis techniques.The BRS was lower in SHR than it was in WKY rats throughout the 24 h cycle. In both strains high values were found during the light, resting period, whereas low values were found during the first hours of the dark, active period. The circadian rhythmicity of the blood pressure in SHR was abolished completely during the infusions of prazosin and hexamethonium. In contrast, the circadian rhythmicities of the blood pressure and heart rate were not altered by infusions of metoprolol, methyl-atropine and the low dose of scopolamine. Power spectra of the blood pressure and heart rate lacked predominant peaks at ultradian frequencies and showed 1/f characteristics. In the absence of autonomic tone, the ultradian fluctuations in heart rate, but not in blood pressure, were decreased. The ultradian BRS spectra had no 1/f shape, but showed a major peak at ≈20 min for 71% of the WKY rats and 42% of the SHR.The influence of the autonomic nervous system on the blood pressure and heart rate in SHR is frequency-dependent. The circadian, but not ultradian, blood pressure rhythmicity is controlled by vascular autonomic activity. Conversely, the circadian, but not ultradian, heart rate rhythmicity is independent of autonomic tone. In rats, just as in humans, the trough in baroreflex sensitivity occurred after the sleeping period, when locomotor activity is resumed.