1. The role of vasopressinergic and oxytocinergic (VPergic and OTergic, respectively) projections to the brain stem in the modulation of heart rate control is discussed on the basis of both changes in the peptide content of the dorsal brain stem (DBS) and functional effects following reflex- and exercise-induced activation in the presence and/or absence of receptor blockade within the nucleus tractus solitarius (NTS) and/or peripheral autonomic block. 2. Experimental data showed a dual effect of NTS VPergic projections on reflex control: (i) to maintain tonically the reflex sensitivity; and (ii) to reset reflex bradycardia towards higher heart rate values when transiently activated. The VPergic drive causes less sympathetic inhibition during pressure increases, mainly by reducing peripheral information going to NTS second-order neurons. Treadmill running increases the vasopressin content within the DBS. This activates NTS V(1) receptors to cause a significant improvement of exercise tachycardia in both sedentary and trained rats. 3. The OTergic drive to DBS areas (NTS/dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus) is also tonic for baroreceptor reflex control: it improves reflex bradycardia by facilitating vagal outflow to the heart. An acute bout of exercise increases DBS oxytocin (OT) content in trained rats, causing a significant blunting of exercise tachycardia only in this group. In both sedentary and trained groups, basal heart rate varies inversely with DBS OT content, the resting bradycardia of trained rats being associated with higher OT content. 4. Specific coordinated activation of VPergic and OTergic suprabulbar pathways is essential to adjust heart rate and cardiac output to circulatory demand at rest and during exercise in both sedentary and trained individuals.