To assess the relationship between aging and autonomic regulation of sinus node function, 56 subjects of various ages (range 14-75 years, mean 43 +/- 19 years) without sinus node disease were studied. Heart rate, corrected sinus node recovery time and sinoatrial conduction time were measured before (basic) and after (intrinsic) pharmacologic autonomic blockade (propranolol + atropine i.v.). Percent chronotropies of the above parameters were calculated by a modified Jordan's method. Basic heart rate and basic corrected sinus node recovery time did not vary with age (r = -0.15, r = 0.08, respectively), while basic sinoatrial conduction time tended to increase with age (r = 0.32, p < 0.05). Intrinsic heart rate decreased (r = -0.76, p < 0.001), and intrinsic corrected sinus node recovery time and intrinsic sinoatrial conduction time both increased with age (r = 0.55, p < 0.001; r = 0.56, p < 0.001, respectively). The younger the subject, the more negative the percent chronotropies of the above parameters were, and the percent chronotropies correlated positively with age (r = 0.68, p < 0.001; r = 0.52, p < 0.001 and r = 0.34, p < 0.05, respectively). In conclusion, intrinsic sinus node functions deteriorated with age. Furthermore, parasympathetic tone on the sinus node functions decreased with age, which may compensate for age-related deterioration of intrinsic sinus node function.