1. The effects of ventricular myosin heavy chain (MHC) composition on the kinetics of activation and relaxation were examined in both chemically skinned and intact myocardial preparations from adult rats. Thyroid deficiency was induced to alter ventricular MHC isoform expression from approximately 80% alpha-MHC/20% beta-MHC in euthyroid rats to 100% beta-MHC, without altering the expression of thin-filament-associated regulatory proteins. 2. In single skinned myocytes, increased expression of beta-MHC did not significantly affect either maximal Ca2+-activated tension (P0) or the Ca2+ sensitivity of tension (pCa50). However, unloaded shortening velocity (V0) decreased by 80% due to increased beta-MHC expression. 3. The kinetics of activation and relaxation were examined in skinned multicellular preparations using the caged Ca2+ compound DM-nitrophen and caged Ca2+ chelator diazo-2, respectively. Myocardium expressing 100% beta-MHC exhibited apparent rates of submaximal and maximal tension development (kCa) that were 60% lower than in control myocardium, and a 2-fold increase in the half-time for relaxation from steady-state submaximal force. 4. The time courses of cell shortening and intracellular Ca2+ transients were assessed in living, electrically paced myocytes, both with and without beta-adrenergic stimulation (70 nM isoproterenol (isoprenaline)). Thyroid deficiency had no affect on either the extent of myocyte shortening or the resting or peak fura-2 fluorescence ratios. However, induction of beta-MHC expression by thyroid deficiency was associated with increased half-times for myocyte shortening and relengthening and increased half-time for the decay of the fura-2 fluorescence ratio. Qualitatively similar results were obtained in both the absence and the presence of beta-adrenergic stimulation although the beta-agonist accelerated the kinetics of the twitch and the Ca2+ transient. 5. Collectively, these data provide evidence that increased beta-MHC expression contributes significantly to the observed depression of contractile function in thyroid deficient myocardium by slowing the rates of both force development and force relaxation.