Insulin is suggested to have direct effects on the cardiovascular system but these are not well described. We assessed the possible influence of insulin on autonomic control of heart function. A 2-h hyperinsulinaemic euglycaemic clamp was performed in 10 healthy women (mean age 21.7 +/- 1.3 years), at two different insulin infusion rates: 80 mU m-2 and 400 mU m-2 min-1, in 7 and 3 subjects, respectively. Saline alone was infused in 4 controls. Power spectral analysis (PSA) of heart rate was recorded before and after 90-120 min of insulin infusion, as were blood pressure and heart rate. Although there were no significant changes in heart rate or blood pressure, PSA showed marked reductions of high frequency (HF) bands after insulin (2.60 +/- 0.12 vs 2.09 +/- 0.16 log ms2, p < 0.005), as at both low and high infusion rates (2.46 +/- 0.13 to 2.14 +/- 0.23 log ms2, p < 0.05, and 2.92 +/- 0.18 to 1.98 +/- 0.06 log ms2, p < 0.01, respectively). There were no significant changes of low frequency (LF) bands. Densities at LF and HF did not change significantly in control studies. As HF and LF are considered to reflect parasympathetic and mainly sympathetic control respectively, our observation of an increased LF/HF ratio (0.13 +/- 0.10 vs 0.63 +/- 0.13, p < 0.005) may be considered an index of relative sympathetic predominance induced by insulin infusion. We conclude that insulin affects the cardiovascular system, reducing vagal influence on the heart and inducing a relative hypersympathetic tone.