The neuronal basis for thermal acclimation was examined by comparing the short- and long-term effects of temperature change on the physiological properties of an identified neuron in the isolated ganglion of Hexis aspersa. Using intracellular electrophysiological techniques, we found that the frequency of spontaneous action potentials and excitability of neurons from warm-acclimated animals was depressed by abruptly cooling from 20 to 5 degrees C. After a 2-wk period of acclimation to 5 degrees C, the levels of spontaneous activity and excitability were comparable to those of warm-acclimated neurons at 20 degrees C. Conversely, abrupt warming of neurons from cold-acclimated animals greatly increased the frequency of spontaneous activity, but after acclimation to 20 degrees C the frequency decreased. Although the duration of the action potential and the cell's electrogenic Na-K pump were temperature sensitive, thermal acclimation had no obvious effects on these parameters. Membrane permeability to Na and PNa/PK decreased with cooling, whereas PRb/PK and PCs/PK increased. Warming had the opposite effect on the relative alkali cation permeability (PX/PK). With acclimation PX/PK underwent compensatory changes.