We studied temperature homeostasis in male mice lacking all thyroid hormone receptor-alpha gene products (TRalpha-0/0). As other TRalpha-deficient mice, TRalpha-0/0 mice have lower core body temperature (T(C)) than cognate wild-type controls. We found that obligatory thermogenesis is normal in TRalpha-0/0 and that the lower T(C) at room temperature (RT, 20-22 C) is caused by a down setting of the hypothalamic thermostat. However, TRalpha-0/0 mice are cold intolerant due to impaired facultative thermogenesis. Norepinephrine-induced brown adipose tissue (BAT) thermogenesis is blunted, even though BAT-relevant genes and T(4) deiodinase respond normally to cold stimulation, as do serum T(3), serum glycerol (marker of lipolysis), and heart rate. BAT normally contributes to maintain T(C) at RT, 9 C below thermoneutrality, yet TRalpha-0/0 mice do not show signs of being cold stressed at 20-22 C. Instead, oxygen consumption is greater in TRalpha-0/0 than in wild-type mice at RT, suggesting the recruitment of an alternate, cold-activated form of thermogenesis to compensate for the lack of BAT thermogenesis. These results indicate that TRalpha is necessary for T(3) to modulate the central control of T(C) and for an essential step in norepinephrine activation of BAT thermogenesis but not to sustain obligatory thermogenesis. In addition, the results provide evidence for an alternate form of facultative thermogenesis, which probably originates in skeletal muscle and that is less effective and more energy demanding than BAT thermogenesis.