The present study was designed to explore the thermogenic effect of thyroid hormone administration and the resulting changes in nitrogen homeostasis. Normal male volunteers (n = 7) received thyroxin during 6 weeks. The first 3-week period served to suppress endogenous thyroid secretion (180 micrograms T4/day). This dose was doubled for the next 3 weeks. Sleeping energy expenditure (respiratory chamber) and BMR (hood) were measured by indirect calorimetry, under standardized conditions. Sleeping heart rate was continuously recorded and urine was collected during this 12-hour period to assess nitrogen excretion. The changes in energy expenditure, heart rate and nitrogen balance were then related to the excess thyroxin administered. After 3 weeks of treatment, serum TSH level fell to 0.15 mU/L, indicating an almost complete inhibition of the pituitary-thyroid axis. During this phase of treatment there was an increase in sleeping EE and sleeping heart rate, which increased further by doubling the T4 dose (delta EE: +8.5 +/- 2.3%, delta heart rate +16.1 +/- 2.2%). The T4 dose, which is currently used as a substitutive dose, lead to a borderline hyperthyroid state, with an increase in EE and heart rate. Exogenous T4 administration provoked a significant increase in urinary nitrogen excretion averaging 40%. It is concluded that T4 provokes an important stimulation of EE, which is mostly mediated by an excess protein oxidation.