Isometric tension responses to rapid temperature jumps (T-jumps) of 3-7 degrees C were examined in single skinned fibers isolated from rabbit psoas (fast) and soleus (slow) muscles. T-jumps were induced by an infrared laser pulse (wavelength 1.32 microns, pulse duration 0.2 ms) obtained from a Nd-YAG laser, which heated the fiber and bathing buffer solution in a 50-microliter trough. After a T-jump, the temperature near the fiber remained constant for approximately 0.5 s, and the temperature could be clamped for longer periods by means of Peltier units assembled on the back trough wall. A T-jump produced a step decrease in tension in both fast and slow muscle fibers in rigor, indicating thermal expansion. In maximally Ca-activated (pCa approximately 4) fibers, the increase of steady tension with heating (3-35 degrees C) was approximately sigmoidal, and a T-jump at any temperature induced a more complex tension transient than in rigor fibers. An initial (small amplitude) step decrease in tension followed by a rapid recovery (tau(1); see Davis and Harrington, 1993) was seen in some records from both fiber types, which presumably was an indirect consequence of thermal expansion. The net rise in tension after a T-jump was biexponential, and its time course was characteristically different in the two fibers. At approximately 12 degrees C the reciprocal time constants for the two exponential components (tau(2) and tau(3), respectively, were approximately 70.s(-1) and approximately 15.s(-1) in fast fibers and approximately 20.s(-1) and approximately 3.s(-1) in slow fibers. In both fibers, tau(2) ("endothermic force regeneration") became faster with an increase in temperature. Furthermore, tau(3) was temperature sensitive in slow fibers but not in fast fibers. The results are compared and contrasted with previous findings from T-jump experiments on fast fibers. It is observed that the fast/slow fiber difference in the rate of endothermic force generation (three- to fourfold) is considerably smaller than the reported differences in the "phosphate release steps" (> 30-fold).