Individual differences in the cardiovascular response to stress play a central role in the reactivity hypothesis linking frequent exposure to psychosocial stress to adverse outcomes in cardiovascular health. To assess the importance of genetic factors, a meta-analysis was performed on all published twin studies that assessed heart rate (HR) or blood pressure (BP) reactivity to the cold pressor test or various mental stress tasks. For reactivity to mental stress, the pooled heritability estimate ranged from 0.26 to 0.43. Reactivity to the cold pressor test yielded heritability estimates from 0.21 to 0.55. An ensuing review of genetic association studies revealed a number of genes, mostly within the sympathoadrenal pathway, that may account for part of the heritability of cardiovascular stress reactivity. Future progress in gene finding, that should include measures of sympathetic and vagal stress reactivity, may help uncover the molecular pathways from genetic variation to stress reactivity. © 2009 Elsevier Ltd.