Cardiac rhythm was measured in Blattella germanica females during the reproductive cycle. The rate increased from day 0 to 1, remained constant during the vitellogenic period and fell by about 20% during the period of oothecal transport. The effects of allatostatins, allatostatin analogues and corazonin were tested on semi-isolated heart preparations. Allatostatins showed a rapid, reversible and dose-dependent cardioinhibitory activity. Blattella allatostatin 1 (BLAST-1: LYDFGL-NH(2)), was the most active, eliciting 76% inhibition at 10(-7) M and even 19% inhibition at 10(-9) M. BLAST-2 (DRLYSFGL-NH(2)), BLAST-3 (AGSDGRLYSFGL-NH(2)) and BLAST-4 (APSSAQRLYGFGL-NH(2)) were less active. An analogue of BLAST-2 with C-terminus in acid form and a pseudopeptide analogue of BLAST-2 with a methyleneamino Psi[CH(2)NH] peptide bond surrogate between residues L(3) and Y(4) were inactive. Corazonin elicited rapid, reversible and dose-dependent cardioacceleratory activity. When tested together with BLAST-1, corazonin overrode the cardioinhibitory effect of allatostatin. Our previous results had shown that high levels of allatostatin were maintained during the period of oothecal transport. This and the fact that physiological concentrations of allatostatins produce physiological levels of inhibition, suggest that allatostatins are involved in the modulation of cardiac rhythm in this cockroach.