The regulation of arterial pressure in early vertebrate embryos and larvae with non-innervated hearts is poorly understood. We used nanoliter intravascular injections in anaesthetized Xenopus laevis larvae (stage 49–51) to assess their ability to maintain arterial pressure in the face of a volume load. Injections of saline and hetastarch (a volume expander) were made into the ventricle. Arterial pressure, end-diastolic ventricular volume, end-systolic ventricular volume and heart rate were measured. Injection of 800 nl caused a rapid rise in arterial pressure and stroke volume. There were no changes in heart rate, indicating the absence of an arterial baroreflex. Blood pressure in saline-injected animals recovered quickly (within 5 min), whereas hetastarch injections caused hypertension to be maintained for much longer, for over 40 min in the most extreme case. We surmise that Starling forces at the capillary play an important role in pressure regulation but are not adequate to explain the entire response. Finally, there was ample evidence for a Frank-Starling relationship in the ventricle.

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