Rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss, Walbaum) were acclimated to 4 degrees C and 17 degrees C for more than 4 weeks and heart rate was determined in the absence and presence of adrenaline to see how thermal adaptation influences basal heart rate and its beta-adrenergic control in a eurythermal fish species. The basal heart rate in vitro was higher in cold-acclimated than warm-acclimated rainbow trout at temperatures below 17 degrees C. On the other hand, adaptation to cold decreased thermal tolerance of heart rate so that the maximal heart rates were achieved at 17 degrees C (75 +/- 4 bpm) and 24 degrees C (88 +/- 2 bpm) in cold-acclimated and warm-acclimated trout, respectively. Beta-adrenergic response of the heart was enhanced by cold-adaptation, since adrenaline (100 nmol l(-1)) caused stronger stimulation of heart rate in cold-acclimated (29 +/- 14%) than in warm-acclimated fish (10 +/- 1%; P = 0.03). Furthermore, adrenaline strongly opposed the temperature-dependent deterioration of force production in cold-acclimated trout but not in warm-acclimated trout. The results indicate that adaptation to cold increases basal heart rate but decreases its thermal tolerance in rainbow trout. Cold acclimation up-regulates the beta-adrenergic system, and beta-adrenoceptor activation seems to provide cardioprotection against high temperatures in the cold-adapted rainbow trout.