Because sepsis is characterized by a depression in vascular reactivity, we hypothesized that changes in organ blood flows (Q) would differ between the nonseptic and septic state during the infusion of sympathomimetics. Therefore we examined the (sepsis X organ Q) interaction during the infusion of five sympathomimetics in 36 mature, awake sheep before and after cecal ligation and perforation produced hyperdynamic sepsis. A 3-hour infusion of dobutamine, norepinephrine, dopamine, dopexamine, or salbutamol was compared with that of placebo during both nonseptic and septic studies; drug infusion was titrated to an increase in cardiac index of greater than 20%. Increased plateau infusion doses of norepinephrine (+305%), salbutamol (+275%), dopamine (+70%), and dobutamine (+49%) were required to achieve predefined treatment guidelines during the septic versus nonseptic study. Few differences in the regional effects of individual sympathomimetics were found in the nonseptic study, although infusion of sympathomimetics was accompanied by a redistribution of systemic /.Q toward the heart and away from the brain, kidney, small intestine, liver, and pancreas. In the septic study, however, the sympathomimetic infusions were not accompanied by the redistribution of /.Q away from small intestine and liver that was demonstrated in the nonseptic study. Therefore (1) the depressed vascular reactivity in hyperdynamic sepsis altered the dose profile of exogenous sympathomimetics required to augment systemic /.Q, and (2) the (sepsis X sympathomimetic) interaction was characterized by a depression in the anticipated redistribution of organ /.Q from "nonvital" to "vital" circulations.