In their natural environment, burrowing rodents experience rather fluctuating ambient temperatures and are acutely cold exposed only for short periods outside their burrows. The effect of short daily cold exposure on basal metabolic rate, nonshivering thermogenesis, brown fat thermogenesis, and uncoupling protein mRNA was studied in the Djungarian hamster, Phodopus sungorus. They were kept at 23 degrees C and exposed to 5 degrees C daily either for one 4-h period or twice for 2 h (in 12-h intervals). At the same time control hamsters were kept continuously either at thermoneutrality (23 degrees C) or at 5 degrees C. Two 2-h cold exposures daily were sufficient to increase basal metabolic rate and nonshivering thermogenesis to the same level as continuous cold exposure, whereas one 4-h cold period per day did not result in a significant increase of both parameters. Brown fat thermogenesis (as measured by cytochrome-c oxidase activity and GDP binding to the mitochondrial uncoupling protein) increased to the same extent by both treatments with short daily cold exposure. However, this increase was less than in the chronically cold-exposed hamsters. A similar result was found for uncoupling protein mRNA: both short-term cold-exposed hamsters increased uncoupling protein mRNA levels to a similar extent, but less than after chronic cold treatment. It is concluded that short daily cold exposures are sufficient to cause adaptive increases of the capacity of metabolic heat production as well as brown fat thermogenic properties.