The effects of using Tris or HEPES buffered solutions instead of bicarbonate-phosphate buffered solution on the spontaneous activity of the rat portal vein were studied. The effect of the solution buffered with Tris on the spontaneous contractile activity was a minor change in amplitude and frequency, increasing the integrated isometric force by about 20%. A small increase in the mechanical response to variations in [Ca2+]0 (1.0-2.5 mM) was also observed. The response to field stimulation of intramural nerves was significantly lowered in Tris but the response to exogenous noradrenaline was not affected. HEPES buffer does not significantly affect the spontaneous activity, the concentration-effect curve for Ca2+, the response to field stimulation or to exogenous noradrenaline. Transient changes in the spontaneous activity and the resting membrane potential were observed when the solution was changed from Krebs to Tris (or HEPES) solution or vice versa. These changes disappear if the Tris or HEPES solutions were aerated with 4% CO2 in O2 (at pH 7.4) instead of pure O2. A small change in extracellular pH (+/- 0.2 pH units) significantly affects the spontaneous activity. A change in pH may be the reason for the observed effects in the different buffer media.