Our objective was to study the role of vasopressinergic synapses at the nucleus tractus solitarii (NTS) in the modulation of exercise-induced tachycardia. We evaluated the effect of NTS administration of vasopressin (AVP) or vasopressin antagonist (AVP(ant)) on heart rate (HR) and mean arterial pressure (MAP) responses during dynamic exercise in male rats with chronic arterial and NTS cannulas. Sedentary (S) and trained (T) animals were tested at three or four exercise levels (from 0.4 up to 1.4 km/h) after NTS injection of AVP or AVP(ant) 20-30 min before treadmill exercise. Plasma and regional brain levels of AVP were measured in separate groups of S and T rats at rest and immediately after acute exercise. When administered into the NTS, exogenous AVP (20 pmol) caused a small but significant decrease in baseline HR and potentiated the tachycardiac response to mild to moderate exercise intensities (on average, increases of 35-46 beats/min over control tachycardic response). The potentiation of exercise tachycardia by AVP was long lasting and more pronounced in T than in S rats. Even 2 days after NTS AVP injection, there was evidence for an alteration in the HR response to exercise. Mediation by V1 receptors was supported by the blunted tachycardiac response to exercise after administration of a V1 antagonist d(CH2)5Tyr MeAVP into the NTS in both T and S rats (average reductions of 23-34 and 13-19 beats/min below control tachycardia, respectively). No changes were observed in baseline MAP or the exercise-induced pressor responses. There were specific changes in brain stem AVP levels that were related to the exercise treatment. T rats showed a marked increase in dorsal and ventral brain stem AVP content after acute exercise. There were no changes in hypothalamus, median eminence, posterior pituitary, or plasma AVP. These data indicate that vasopressinergic synapses and V1 receptors in the NTS are involved in the potentiation of tachycardic response to exercise. The vasopressinergic mechanism operates in both S and T rats, but training alters the sensitization of V1 receptors by AVP.