Like humans, the heart rate (HR) of anesthetized rats immersed in CO(2)-water is lower than that when immersed in tap water at the same temperature. To investigate the afferent signal pathway in the mechanism of HR reduction, Wistar rats were anesthetized with urethane and then the spinal cord was transected between T(4) and T(5). The animals were immersed up to the axilla in a bathtub of tap-water (CO(2) contents: 10-20 mg.l(-1)) or of CO(2)-water (965-1,400 mg.l(-1)) at 35 degrees C while recording HR, arterial blood pressure, and arterial blood gas parameters (PaCO(2), PaO(2), pH). Arterial blood gas parameters did not change during immersion, irrespective of CO(2) concentration of the bath water, whereas the HR was reduced in the CO(2)-water bath. The inhalation of CO(2)-mixed gas (5% CO(2), 20% O(2), 75% N(2)) resulted in increased levels of blood gases and an increased HR during immersion in all types of water tested. The HR reduction observed in sham transected control animals immersed in CO(2)-water disappeared after subsequent spinal cord transection. These results show that the dominant afferent signal pathway to the brain, which is involved in inducing the reduced HR during immersion in CO(2)-water, is located in the neuronal route and not in the bloodstream.