The primary aim of this study was to determine the influence of systemic hyperoxia on sympathetic nervous system behavior at rest and during submaximal exercise in humans. In seven healthy subjects (aged 19-31 yr) we measured postganglionic sympathetic nerve activity to skeletal muscle (MSNA) in the leg, antecubital venous norepinephrine concentrations, heart rate, and arterial blood pressure during normoxic rest (control) followed by 3- to 4-min periods of either hyperoxic (100% O2 breathing) rest, normoxic exercise (rhythmic handgrips at 50% of maximum force), or hyperoxic exercise. During exercise, isocapnia was maintained by adding CO2 to the inspirate as necessary. At rest, hyperoxia lowered MSNA burst frequency (12-42%) and total activity (6-42%) in all subjects; the average reductions were 25 and 23%, respectively (P less than 0.05 vs. control). Heart rate also decreased during hyperoxia (6 +/- 1 beats/min, P less than 0.05), but arterial blood pressure was not affected. During hyperoxic compared with normoxic exercise, there were no differences in the magnitudes of the increases in MSNA burst frequency or total activity, plasma norepinephrine concentrations, or mean arterial blood pressure. In contrast, the increase in heart rate during hyperoxic exercise (13 +/- 2 beats/min) was less than the increase during normoxic exercise (20 +/- 2 beats/min; P less than 0.05). We conclude that, in healthy humans, systemic hyperoxia 1) lowers efferent sympathetic nerve activity to skeletal muscle under resting conditions without altering venous norepinephrine concentrations and 2) has no obvious modulatory effect on the nonactive muscle sympathetic nerve adjustments to rhythmic exercise.