This investigation was performed to examine the role of brown adipose tissue (BAT) in thermogenesis induced by ephedrine in man. Light microscopy of biopsies from necropsy cases showed BAT to occur most frequently in the perirenal fat. Perirenal BAT thermogenesis was investigated in five lean men before and during stimulation with 1 mg ephedrine orally X kg body wt-1. Perirenal BAT thermogenesis was assessed by continuous measurements of local temperature and blood flow with the 133xenon clearance method. In the same study the effect of ephedrine on skeletal muscle oxygen consumption was estimated by measurements of leg blood flow and arteriovenous oxygen difference. The perirenal adipose tissue blood flow increased approximately twofold, whereas the local temperature increased approximately 0.1 degrees C on an average. Assuming that man possesses 700 g of BAT with a similar thermogenic capacity, this tissue contributed only 10 ml X min-1 to the 40 ml X min-1 increase in oxygen consumption in the subject whose perirenal BAT showed the most pronounced response to ephedrine. The leg oxygen consumption increased on an average 60% after ephedrine. By extrapolation of this value to whole body skeletal muscle, approximately 50% of the increase in oxygen consumption induced by ephedrine may take place in skeletal muscle. It is concluded that skeletal muscle is a tissue of importance with respect to the thermogenic effect of sympathomimetics in man, whereas the results do not support a major role for perirenal BAT.