In view of evidence implicating thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH) as a chemical mediator of synaptic transmission onto spinal sympathetic neurons, this peptide was administered intrathecally, in a dose of 6.5 nmol, at the T9 and T2 spinal levels in the anesthetized rat. At the lower thoracic level TRH increased arterial pressure and heart rate; these effects peaked at 4-7 minutes and decayed over the next 15-20 minutes. At the upper thoracic level the pressor and cardioacceleratory responses were roughly similar in time course but were smaller in magnitude. Hexamethonium (10 mg/kg i.v.) was tested on the responses from the lower thoracic level; both pressor and cardioacceleratory responses persisted after hexamethonium pretreatment. In addition, intravenous administration of 6.5 nmol of TRH failed to alter arterial pressure or heart rate, suggesting that the effects produced by the intrathecal administration of TRH were due to an action of the peptide in the spinal cord. The results also indicate that the pressor effect and the increase in heart rate may be mediated in the sympathetic ganglia at least partly via nonnicotinic transmission. Our results provide physiological support for the possibility that TRH is a chemical mediator of synaptic transmission onto sympathetic preganglionic neurons. This study indicates that the functional sympathetic pathways utilizing TRH as a chemical mediator include those regulating arterial pressure and heart rate.