Action potential configuration in ventricular and atrial myocardium, as well as rate-dependent changes in ventricular action potential duration (APD) were studied and compared in healthy and diabetic rats. Diabetes was induced by a single injection of streptozotocin (STZ, 65 mg kg(-1) i.v.). Conventional microelectrode techniques were applied to record action potentials after the establishment of diabetes (2, 6, 10 and 18 weeks after STZ-treatment). Untreated age-matched animals were used as controls. Both depolarization and repolarization were significantly retarded following STZ-treatment. However, the time course of development of diabetic changes in atrial and ventricular myocardium was different. APD was significantly lengthened from week 2 of diabetes in ventricular, but only from week 6 in atrial preparations. In atrial myocardium, lengthening of APD was more pronounced at early rather than late phases of repolarization. The maximum rate of depolarization (Vmax) was significantly reduced from the 6th week of diabetes in both preparations. No differences were observed in action potential amplitude (except at week 18) and in the resting membrane potential in diabetic rats. Diabetic ventricular preparations showed a positive APD-frequency relationship at any level of repolarization, in contrast to control muscles, where APD25 and APD50 values lengthened. But APD75 and APD90 values were not changed significantly with increase in the pacing frequency. The results indicate that development of diabetic alterations are not fully identical in atrial and ventricular myocardium of the rat, probably owing to differences in density and kinetics of ionic currents responsible for atrial and ventricular action potentials.