1. Using electrophysiological techniques, the discharge of neurones in the nucleus of the solitary tract (NTS) receiving aortic depressor nerve (ADN) inputs was examined during blood pressure changes induced by I.V. phenylephrine or nitroprusside in anaesthetized, paralysed and artificially ventilated rats. 2. Various changes in discharge rate were observed during phenylephrine-induced blood pressure elevations: an increase (n = 38), a decrease (n = 5), an increase followed by a decrease (n =4) and no response (n = 11). In cells receiving a monosynaptic ADN input (MSNs), the peak discharge frequency response was correlated to the rate of increase in mean arterial pressure (P < 0.01) but was not correlated to the absolute increase in blood pressure. The peak discharge frequency response of cells receiving a polysynaptic ADN input (PSNs) was correlated to neither the absolute increase in blood pressure nor the rate of increase in mean arterial pressure. 3. Diverse changes in discharge rate were observed during nitroprusside-induced reductions in blood pressure: an increase (n = 3), a decrease (n = 10), an increase followed by a decrease (n = 3) and no response (n = 6). Reductions in pressure of 64 ± 2 mmHg produced weak reductions in spontaneous discharge of 1.3 ± 0.9 Hz and only totally abolished spontaneous discharge in one neurone. 4. These response patterns of NTS neurones during changes in arterial pressure suggest that baroreceptor inputs are integrated differently in MSNs compared to PSNs. The sensitivity of MSNs to the rate of change of pressure provides a mechanism for the rapid regulation of cardiovascular function. The lack of sensitivity to the mean level of a pressure increase in both MSNs and PSNs suggests that steady-state changes in pressure are encoded by the number of active neurones and not graded changes in the discharges of individual neurones. Both MSNs and PSNs receive tonic excitatory inputs from the arterial baroreceptors; however, these tonic inputs appear to be insufficient to totally account for their spontaneous discharge.