Mild cold exposure (22 degrees C, with reference to 28 degrees C, thermoneutral) was studied by overnight whole-body indirect calorimetry in euthyroid women. Basal, sleeping, energy expenditure (EE) was significantly increased (+3.8%, P less than 0.05) in six normal weight women but reduced (-3.5%, P less than 0.05) in five obese type II diabetic women. Mixed responses were found in five women with simple obesity. Biochemical measurements were made on fasting blood samples taken at 0900 h after 12 h exposure to the two temperatures. Serum T4, free T3 and TSH were within the normal reference range in all subjects. Serum T4 did not show any differences between the groups, nor any effect from temperature. There was a significant increase in free T3 (P less than 0.05) at 22 degrees C in the control subjects, but no differences in the obese diabetic women. Serum thyroglobulin fell significantly in the diabetic group. Both TSH and free T3 responses to mild cold were significantly different between the groups, but both correlated positively (P less than 0.05) with the changes in sleeping energy expenditure at 22 degrees C with reference to 28 degrees C. Changes in TSH and free T3 were themselves significantly correlated within individuals (P less than 0.01). The normal physiological non-shivering thermogenesis of adult humans on exposure to a cool environment may thus be mediated by a pituitary-thyroid mechanism. The abnormal response of obese diabetic women was associated with impaired TSH and thyroid hormone responses, and may be a factor contributing to weight gain.