No evidence currently exists that motoneurone adaptations in electrophysiological properties can result from changes in the chronic level of neuromuscular activity. We examined, in anaesthetized (ketamine/xylazine) rats, the properties of motoneurones with axons in the tibial nerve, from rats performing daily spontaneous running exercise for 12 weeks in exercise wheels ('runners') and from rats confined to plastic cages ('controls'). Motoneurones innervating the hindlimb via the tibial nerve were impaled with sharp glass microelectrodes, and the properties of resting membrane potential, spike threshold, rheobase, input resistance, and the amplitude and time-course of the afterhyperpolarization (AHP) were measured. AHP half-decay time was used to separate motoneurones into 'fast' (AHP half-decay time < 20 ms) and 'slow' (AHP half-decay time >/= 20 ms), the proportions of which were not significantly different between controls (58 % fast) and runners (65 % fast). Two-way ANOVA and ANCOVA revealed differences between motoneurones of runners and controls which were confined to the 'slow' motoneurones. Specifically, runners had slow motoneurones with more negative resting membrane potentials and spike thresholds, larger rheobasic spike amplitudes, and larger amplitude AHPs compared to slow motoneurones of controls. These adaptations were not evident in comparing fast motoneurones from runners and controls. This is the first demonstration that physiological modifications in neuromuscular activity can influence basic motoneurone biophysical properties. The results suggest that adaptations occur in the density, localization, and/or modulation of ionic membrane channels that control these properties. These changes might help offset the depolarization of spike threshold that occurs during rhythmic firing.