Acute treatment with the centrally active beta-2 adrenergic agonist clenbuterol reduced response rate and increased reinforcement rate of rats responding under a differential-reinforcement-of-low-rate (DRL) 72-sec schedule in a dose-dependent manner (ED50 value of about 0.1 mg/kg). With repeated treatment, rapid tolerance developed to this effect of clenbuterol. Redetermination of the dose-response function for clenbuterol, following 2 weeks of repeated daily administration, showed that clenbuterol no longer affected DRL behavior at doses up to 3 mg/kg. Interestingly, tolerance developed to clenbuterol even when it was administered after each daily session. This suggests that behavioral factors did not contribute, in an appreciable manner, to the development of tolerance to clenbuterol, and that neuropharmacological changes were sufficient for tolerance development. Such an interpretation is supported by the finding that the density of beta-2 adrenergic receptors in the cerebral cortices and cerebella of rats receiving the same repeated-treatment regimen was reduced with a time course similar to the loss of behavioral responsiveness. The effects of two additional beta-2 selective agonists, SOM-1122 and zinterol, on DRL behavior also were attenuated after repeated treatment with clenbuterol. By contrast, the effects of the beta-1 selective agonists dobutamine and prenalterol and the antidepressants desipramine, phenelzine and fluoxetine on DRL behavior were unaltered after repeated treatment with clenbuterol. These findings suggest functional independence of the beta adrenergic receptor subtypes and further suggest that, consistent with neuropharmacological data, the behavioral effects of the antidepressants do not depend on functionally responsive beta-2 adrenergic receptors.