Beat-to-beat changes observed in cardiac vagal and sympathetic nerve activity and their effects on cardiac cycle length were studied during slow wave blood pressure and heart rate fluctuations (third order rhythm) and during respiratory sinus arrhythmia. Recordings were made from both nerves simultaneously in chloralose anesthetized and artificially ventilated dogs. During slow wave fluctuations in heart rate, a linear relationship was found to exist between the number of spikes per pulse interval recorded from vagal and sympathetic nerves and the length of pulse intervals. During respiratory sinus arrhythmia the time course of rhythmic changes in nerve activity and in cardiac cycle length was analyzed. Comparison of time courses indicated that vagal discharges affected the timing of not the following beat, but the one after; while the sympathetic effect was further delayed, affecting the third beat after the discharge. Baroreceptor stimulation, which resulted in lengthening the cardiac cycle, shifted this relationship by one cycle, i.e. vagal discharges affecting the occurrence of the following beat, while sympathetic discharges affecting the beat after. These results provide evidence for the conclusion that in dogs both vagal and sympathetic nerve activity contribute to the control of cardiac cycle length, however, with different time relations and effectiveness.