Lesion and focal cerebral ischemia of the insular cortex (IC) results in elevated renal sympathetic nerve activity (RSNA) and arterial pressure (AP) in the Wistar rat, while the opposite effect is observed in the spontaneously hypertensive rat (SHR). Acute changes in AP, heart rate (HR) and RSNA were measured in propofol-anesthetized and conscious SHR (n = 17) and Wistar rats (n = 17) during pressure injection of D,L-homocysteic acid (DLH; 100 mM) and lidocaine (LID; 20 mg/ml) into the IC. DLH injections (200 nl) into the IC of anesthetized Wistar rats resulted in a significant increase in MAP (mean change = +27 +/- 7 mmHg; P < 0.05) and a significant decrease in HR (-22 +/- 9 beats/min) and RSNA (-11 +/- 4 microV.s). Neither DLH nor LID injections into the IC of anesthetized SHR affected MAP or RNA. DLH and LID injections (500 nl) into the IC of conscious Wistar rats both resulted in a significant increase in MAP (+26 +/- 5 mmHg; 11 +/- 4 mmHg, respectively). Neither DLH nor LID injections had any cardiovascular effects in the conscious SHR. It therefore appears that the IC of conscious Wistar rats has a tonic inhibitory output, while neural excitation is capable of eliciting pressor responses. Conversely, the IC of SHR appears to exert no tonic influence on MAP.