Ketamine has been reported to increase plasma catecholamine concentrations. Prior investigations have only studied plasma catecholamine levels for short periods after iv ketamine. Because ketamine is one of the most frequently used anesthetic agents in critical care research, we evaluated ketamine's effect on catecholamines over a longer period of time. Plasma, urine, and CSF epinephrine (E) and norepinephrine (NE) concentrations were serially measured during a 2-h ketamine infusion and a subsequent 2-h "wake-up" period. No changes in heart rate, mean arterial blood pressure or urine, plasma, and CSF NE concentrations were noted during the 4-h study period, whereas there were significant (p less than 0.005) increases in urine, plasma, and CSF E levels during ketamine infusion but not during the wake-up period. An unexpected finding was that the baboons have very high basal plasma E levels versus those in humans. It is concluded that ketamine is a useful anesthetic agent for critical care research involving measurements of sympathetic nervous system activity. The interesting observation of high plasma levels in the baboon warrants further investigation.