Both the dorsomedial hypothalamic nucleus (DMH) and the paraventricular hypothalamic nucleus (PVN) have been implicated in the neural control of the cardiovascular response to stress. We used the GABAA agonist muscimol to inhibit neuronal activation and attempted to identify hypothalamic nuclei required for the cardiovascular response to air stress. Chronically instrumented rats received bilateral injections of either 80 pmol of muscimol or 100 nl of saline vehicle into the DMH, the PVN, or an intermediate area (including the rostral edge of the DMH and the region between the two nuclei) and were placed immediately in a restraining tube and subjected to 20 min of air stress. In all rats, air stress after vehicle injections caused marked increases in heart rate (137 +/- 6 beats/min) and blood pressure (26 +/- 2 mmHg). Microinjection of muscimol into the DMH suppressed the heart rate and blood pressure response by 85 and 68%, respectively. Identical microinjection of muscimol into the intermediate area between the DMH and the PVN attenuated the increases in heart rate by only 46% and in blood pressure by 52%. In contrast, similar injections into the vicinity of the PVN failed to alter the cardiovascular response to air stress. These findings demonstrate that muscimol-induced inhibition of neuronal activity in the region of the DMH blocks air stress-induced increases in heart rate and arterial pressure, whereas similar treatment in the area of the PVN has no effect.