It is suggested that mechanoreceptors in muscle play an important role in the exercise pressor reflex. However, it has not been verified whether isolated stimulation of the mechanoreceptors can induce responses in muscle sympathetic nerve activity (MSNA) in young healthy individuals. We tested the hypothesis that passive stretch of muscle can evoke an increase in MSNA in healthy individuals. In 12 young subjects, leg calf muscles were passively stretched, or actively contracted for 5 s followed by a 15-25 s (random length) relaxation period. Stretch and contraction were each repeated 25 times. MSNA, heart rate and blood pressure were analysed, and averaged according to the onset of the force on a beat-by-beat basis. At the 1st to the 3rd heart beat from the onset of stretch, MSNA (199 +/- 30%, P < 0.05) as well as heart rate (102.5 +/- 0.7%, P < 0.05) increased transiently but significantly from the prior stretch baseline (100%), followed (from 3rd to 7th beat from the onset of stretch) by a transient increase in mean blood pressure (101.9 +/- 0.3%, P < 0.05) from the baseline. Similar response patterns were observed during active muscle contractions. The present data show that MSNA responses to isolated stimulation of mechanoreceptors are measurable. Because of baroreflex engagement, the magnitude of the response is small and transient, and the haemodynamic consequences using this protocol may be limited.