Brown adipose tissue (BAT) thermogenesis is activated by the sympathetic nervous system. BAT responses to norepinephrine are blunted in hypothyroidism and are rapidly restored by thyroid hormone. We examined in rats the effects of thyroid hormone on BAT beta 1- and beta 2-adrenergic receptors (AR) expression and capacity to generate cAMP in response to adrenergic stimulation. Both are reduced in hypothyroidism. The reduction in cAMP generation is equal to or greater than that in beta 1,2-AR; it is the same whether cAMP production is stimulated with norepinephrine, selective beta 3-AR agonists, or forskolin; and it is not affected by the inhibition of phosphodiesterase. Both beta 1,2-AR and the capacity to generate cAMP were slowly corrected by thyroid hormone. T3 normalized beta 1,2-AR between 1 and 2 days, whereas the improvement in cAMP generation lagged 1 or 2 days behind. Within 2 days of acclimation of athyreotic rats at 30 C, the number of beta 1,2-AR reached the euthyroid level, whereas exposure to 4 C decreased these receptors. We reached the following conclusions: 1) BAT beta 1,2-AR and capacity to generate cAMP are reduced in hypothyroidism; 2) the latter, however, is not explained by the reduction in beta 1,2-AR, but, rather, reflects a fault at the postreceptor level; 3) the reduction in beta 1.2-AR number is largely caused by the cold stress derived from the low metabolic rate of the hypothyroid state; and 4) the slow restoration of both receptor number and capacity to generate cAMP after T3 are not consistent with these defects being a significant factor in the previously reported blunted uncoupling protein responses to adrenergic stimulation in hypothyroidism.