To evaluate the mechanism of neurally mediated syncope (NMS), we investigated basal autonomic nerve function using a conventional pharmacological method and [123I]-metaiodobenzyl-guanidine (MIBG) single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT). Nine patients with NMS, whose syncope was induced by head-up tilt test with or without isoproterenol, underwent [123I]-MIBG SPECT. Eight of nine NMS patients showed reduced myocardial uptake (two patients, diffuse; four patients, anteroseptal and inferior; one patient, anteroseptal; one patient, inferior). In the study of pharmacological autonomic nervous function test, atropine sulfate (atr.) (0.04 mg/kg), isoproterenol (isp.) (5 x 10(-3) microg/kg/min), propranolol (prop.) (0.2 mg/kg), phenylephrine (phenyl.) (0.4 microg/kg/min), and phentolamine (phent.) (0.2 mg/kg) were successively administered to patients with NMS (n = 5) and control subjects (n = 5). The heart rate (HR) after atr. and prop., and systolic blood pressure (SBP) after phent. were defined as intrinsic HR (IHR) and intrinsic SBP (ISBP). Parasympathetic activity (increase in HR by atr.), beta-sympathetic tone (HR after atr. minus IHR), beta-sensitivity (change in HR by 1 microg isp./kg/min), beta-secretion (beta-tone/beta-sensitivity), alpha-sympathetic tone (SBP before phenyl. minus ISBP), alpha-sensitivity (change in SBP by 1 microg phenyl./kg/min) and alpha-secretion (alpha-tone/alpha-sensitivity) were also calculated. The beta-secretion was decreased (0.0027+/-0.0008 versus 0.0060+/-0.0004 microg/kg/min/isp.; p < 0.05), while the beta-sensitivity was increased (5850+/-947 versus 3150+/-292 beats/microg/kg/min isp.; p < 0.05) in NMS compared with control subjects. In the other indexes, there were no significant differences between two groups. The results of the present study suggest that increased beta-sensitivity may contribute hypercontraction of left ventricles, which might partially explain the mechanism of NMS.