NEW FINDINGS: What is the topic of this review? This article reviews data from studies on human participants and animal models showing how electrical stimulation in deep brain structures (deep brain stimulation) can influence autonomic function. What advances does it highlight? Focusing on the control of the cardiovascular system and bladder function, it highlights the potential for development of deep brain stimulation as a new treatment option for patients with autonomic dysfunction. Deep brain stimulation (DBS) in humans has come of age as a tool to treat movement disorders including Parkinson's disease tremor and dystonia as well as a panoply of other disease states including headache, epilepsy, obesity, eating disorders, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, Tourette's syndrome, addiction and chronic pain. Increasingly, practitioners of DBS are reporting autonomic side effects, which intriguingly, sometimes result in improved autonomic function. Focussing on the effects of stimulation at periaqueductal and periventricular sites on cardiovascular function and control of micturition, this review shows that data obtained from studies in animals is now being confirmed in humans. Lowering of blood pressure and improved baroreflex function can be evoked in humans by DBS at these midbrain sites as well as increased bladder capacity. The findings highlight the tantalizing possibility that DBS could be developed for treatment of dysfunctional autonomic states in humans.