Background This simulation study investigated potential modulations of total peripheral resistance (TPR), due to distributed peripheral vascular activity, by means of a lumped model of the arterial tree and a non linear model of microcirculation, inclusive of local controls of blood flow and tissue-capillary fluid exchange. Results Numerical simulations of circulation were carried out to compute TPR under different conditions of blood flow pulsatility, and to extract the pressure-flow characteristics of the cardiovascular system. Simulations showed that TPR seen by the large arteries was increased in absence of pulsatility, while it decreased with an augmented harmonic content. This is a typically non linear effect due to the contribution of active, non linear autoregulation of the peripheral microvascular beds, which also generated a nonlinear relationship between arterial blood pressure and cardiac output. Conclusion This simulation study, though focused on a simple effect attaining TPR modulation due to pulsatility, suggests that non-linear autoregulation mechanisms cannot be overlooked while studying the integrated behavior of the global cardiovascular system, including the arterial tree and the peripheral vascular bed.