Conditions associated with nausea and vomiting, such as motion sickness or side effects of medications, are commonly associated with a clinical picture consistent with parasympathetic activation and sympathetic withdrawal. It can be postulated, therefore, that vestibular stimulation contributes to sympathetic withdrawal. To test this hypothesis five normal volunteers, 24-33 years old, were studied during caloric vestibular stimulation while monitoring muscle sympathetic nerve activity directly through a needle electrode placed in a peroneal nerve. The ear was irrigated with water at a flow rate of 450 ml/min and 37 degrees C. The water temperature was sequentially lowered by 7 degree C intervals until intolerable side effects developed or a temperature of 16 degrees C was reached. Nystagmus was induced in all subjects, but heart rate, blood pressure, muscle sympathetic nerve activity and plasma norepinephrine levels did not change significantly during or after caloric stimulation, even when the subjects felt dizzy and nauseated. No evidence of sympathetic withdrawal was observed in any subject either by muscle sympathetic nerve activity or plasma norepinephrine measurements. In conclusion, we have found that selective vestibular stimulation is not accompanied by significant changes in the sympathetic nervous system function. In particular, no sympathetic withdrawal was observed. It could be argued that lack of sympathetic stimulation is an inadequate response to the symptoms associated with caloric stimulation.