The aim of this study was to investigate cardiac performance and cardiovascular control in two red-blooded nototheniid species of antarctic fishes, Pagothenia bernacchii (a benthic fish) and P. borchgrevinki (a cryopelagic fish), and to make comparisons with existing information on haemoglobin-free antarctic teleosts. In quiescent P. bernacchii at 0 degrees C ventral aortic pressure (PVA) was 3.09 kPa and cardiac output (Q) was 17.6 ml min-1 kg-1, with a heart rate (fH) of 10.5 beats min-1 and stroke volume of 1.56 ml kg-1. Following atropine treatment, Q was maintained but heart rate increased and stroke volume decreased. Resting heart rate resulted from an inhibitory cholinergic tone of 80.4% and an excitatory adrenergic tone of 27.5%. The intrinsic heart rate was 21.7 beats min-1 at 0 degrees C. In quiescent P. borchgrevinki at 0 degrees C, PVA was 3.6 kPa, Q was 29.6 ml min-1 kg-1 and stroke volume was 2.16 ml kg-1. The resting heart rate in P. borchgrevinki of 11.3 beats min-1 resulted from an inhibitory cholinergic tone of 54.5% and an excitatory adrenergic tone of 3.2%. The intrinsic heart rate was 23.3 beats min-1. P. bernacchii maintained Q during a progressive decrease in water oxygen tension from 20 to 6.7 kPa, but fH was increased significantly. Thus, although there is cholinergic control of the heart, no hypoxic bradycardia was observed. Recovery from hypoxia was associated with increases in Q and fH; stroke volume returned to control values. PVA declined in recovery as total vascular resistance decreased. Hypoxic exposure following atropine treatment resulted in progressive increases in PVA, Q and stroke volume; fH decreased during the recovery period. Hypoxic exposure in P. borchgrevinki produced similar cardiovascular responses to those observed in P. bernacchii. During an acute increase in water temperature from 0 to 5 degrees C, P. bernacchii regulated Q and total vascular resistance. Stroke volume decreased as fH increased. The intrinsic heart rate had a Q10 of 1.96 over this temperature range. P. bernacchii maintained chronotropic inhibition up to a temperature of 2.5-3.0 degrees C. However, by 5 degrees C this chronotropic inhibition of the heart rate was lost. Infusion of adrenaline into the ventral aorta of P. bernacchii resulted in significant increases in Q, fH, PVA and total vascular resistance. Infusion of adrenaline after atropine treatment caused similar cardiovascular changes without the change in fH. P. borchgrevinki could sustain swimming in a water tunnel at approximately 1 body length per second for 6–10 min.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

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