1. Parameters derived from frequency-domain analysis of heart period and blood pressure variability are gaining increasing importance in clinical practice. However, the underlying physiological mechanisms in human subjects are not fully understood. Here we address the question as to whether the low frequency variability (approximately 0.1 Hz) of the heart period may depend on a baroreflex-mediated response to blood pressure oscillations, induced by the alpha-sympathetic drive on the peripheral resistance. 2. Heart period (ECG), finger arterial pressure (Finapres) and respiratory airflow were recorded in eight healthy volunteers in the supine position with metronome respiration at 0.25 Hz. We inhibited the vascular response to the sympathetic vasomotor activity with a peripheral alpha-blocker (urapidil) and maintained mean blood pressure at control levels with angiotensin II. 3. We performed spectral and cross-spectral analysis of heart period (RR) and systolic pressure to quantify the power of low- and high-frequency oscillations, phase shift, coherence and transfer function gain. 4. In control conditions, spectral analysis yielded typical results. In the low-frequency range, cross-spectral analysis showed high coherence (> 0.5) and a negative phase shift (-65.1 +/- 18 deg) between RR and systolic pressure, which indicates a 1-2 s lag in heart period changes in relation to pressure. In the high-frequency region, the phase shift was close to zero, indicating simultaneous fluctuations of RR and systolic pressure. During urapidil + angiotensin II infusion the low-frequency oscillations of both blood pressure and heart period were abolished in five cases. In the remaining three cases they were substantially reduced and lost their typical cross-spectral characteristics. 5. We conclude that in supine rest conditions, the oscillation of RR at low frequency is almost entirely accounted for by a baroreflex mechanism, since it is not produced in the absence of a 0.1 Hz pressure oscillation. 6. The results provide physiological support for the use of non-invasive estimates of the closed-loop baroreflex gain from cross-spectral analysis of blood pressure and heart period variability in the 0.1 Hz range.