Propranolol has been reported to reduce portal and wedged hepatic vein pressures in man and may be useful for the prevention of variceal bleeding. However, its mechanism of action remains unclear. We have examined the effect of propranolol on the systemic and hepatic circulations in dogs with chronic bile duct ligation and secondary biliary cirrhosis. Underanesthesia, eight dogs received four increasing doses of propranolol as an i.v. bolus followed by continuous infusion. Systemic and hepatic hemodynamic parameters were measured in basal conditions and after a 30 min infusion for each dose. Portal vein and hepatic artery blood flows were measured with electromagnetic flow meters. All dogs had portal hypertension(portal venous pressure 15.3 ± 0.8 mm Hg), a hyperdynamic circulation and severe liver disease resulting in a marked decrease of propranolol systemic clearance (8.75 ml per min per kg) and extraction (40%). The first dose of propranolol induced a decrease in heart rate (–27%) and in cardiac index(–21%), and an increase in systemic vascular resistance (+20%). With increasing doses, the systemic vascular resistance decreased with an increase in the cardiac index. Propranolol was not associated with significant modifications of hepatic hemodynamics: portal, wedged and free hepatic venous pressures and hepatic artery blood flow were stable, and portal blood flow decreased slightly at very high propranolol levels. In seven dogs studied without dissection of the hepatic vessels, there was a small decrease in portal pressure, but not in wedged and free hepatic venous pressures with increasing doses of propranolol. Thus, in dogs with intrahepatic portal hypertension, propranolol has significant effects on systemic hemodynamics, but only minimal effects on the hepatic circulation.