The autonomic regulation of cardiovascular function was evaluated in 15 cirrhotic patients with ascites and in 13 healthy subjects by the autoregressive power spectral analysis (PSA) of the intervals between adjacent R waves of the electrocardiogram (RR) interval and arterial pressure variability. Total power, low frequency (LF; index of the sympathetic activity of the heart and circulation), and high frequency (HF; index of vagal tone to the heart) components of the RR interval, systolic, and diastolic arterial pressure were evaluated in the supine position and during passive tilting, together with plasma norepinephrine levels. In the supine position, no significant differences in the PSA data were observed between the control subjects and cirrhotic patients, who had higher plasma norepinephrine levels. In healthy subjects, tilting was associated with an increase in the LF of the RR interval and arterial pressure and a decrease in the HF of the RR interval. In contrast, patients with cirrhosis showed a decrease of both LF and HF. Consequently, the LF/HF ratio significantly increased in healthy subjects, whereas it was unchanged in cirrhotic patients. The LF component of the diastolic pressure also decreased during tilting in cirrhotic patients. Plasma norepinephrine increased after tilting in both groups. These results indicate that the autonomic response to passive tilting is impaired in cirrhotic patients with ascites at both the cardiac and vascular levels, as a result of an altered sympatho-vagal balance, with reduced sympathetic predominance. These alterations occurred despite an appropriate response to the tilting of plasma norepinephrine, pointing to a receptorial or postreceptorial site of the autonomic impairment.