Daily injection of lean Zucker rats with a beta 2-adrenergic agonist (clenbuterol, 1 mg/kg) for 22 day increased weight gained by 38 per cent; there were significant increases in carcass protein and water, but fat content was unaltered. Clenbuterol did not affect energy intake or expenditure, the acute thermogenic response to food, or brown adipose tissue (BAT) activity (assessed from mitochondrial purine nucleotide (GDP) binding). In obese Zucker rats, clenbuterol significantly depressed energetic efficiency and increased the thermogenic response to food and BAT activity in these mutants. Body weight gain was not significantly affected by clenbuterol in obese Zucker rats but this was because of a 19 per cent reduction in fat content accompanied by a simultaneous 13 per cent increase in protein content. The ratio of protein/fat gained during the study was increased by 50 and 173 per cent by clenbuterol in lean and obese rats, respectively. Thus, clenbuterol exhibits potent anabolic effects on lean body mass in genetically obese as well as lean rats, but also increases thermogenesis and reduces body fat content in the obese mutants.