In this work the main aspects of the short-term regulation of the cardiovascular system are reviewed and critically discussed, laying special emphasis on the role of the autonomic neural mechanisms involved, on their mutual interrelationships and complex integration. All these aspects are summarized with the help of mathematical models developed by the authors in past years. The main characteristics of the uncontrolled system (i.e., the heart and vessels) and of the efferent neural branches (sympathetic and vagal) working on it are first described. Then, the afferent pathways which participate in feedback mechanisms (baroreceptors, chemoreceptors, lung-stretch receptors, direct CNS response), and the feedforward mechanisms anticipating cardiovascular requirements are introduced, and their role discussed with reference to various cardiovascular perturbations (hemorrhage or posture changes, hypoxia, asphyxia, dynamic exercise). Analysis of physiological data via mathematical equations, and results of computer simulations, emphasize the great complexity, richness and variability of the autonomic cardiovascular control, including redundant mechanisms and antagonistic requirements. The use of mathematical models is essential to capture this richness, and to summarize apparent contradictory data into a coherent and comprehensive theoretical setting.