In anesthetized and ventilated rats, activation of carotid chemoreceptors with intracarotid administration of 100 nmol sodium cyanide rapidly excited the spinal cord-projecting vasomotor neurons in the rostroventrolateral reticular nucleus (RVL) of the medulla oblongata and sympathetic nerves and increased arterial pressure. The chemoreflex sympathoexcitatory pressor responses were attenuated by an acute systemic administration of ethanol at 0.45 g/kg, but not at 45 mg/kg. The ethanol effects were observed at the level of RVL-spinal vasomotor neurons, in attenuating the neuronal responses to the chemoreflex excitation and direct iontophoresis of N-methyl-D-aspartic acid (NMDA) but without altering responses of the carotid sinus nerves to intracarotid cyanide. The effect of ethanol on the RVL neurons was further defined as blocking NMDA-evoked inward current in the corresponding spontaneously active RVL neurons in vitro. The results indicate that acute ethanol intoxication markedly influences NMDA receptor activation and arterial chemoreflexes. The relevance of the type of action to clinical hypertension in chronic and heavy drinkers is discussed.