The effect of capsaicin (0.1 microM) on heart rate and coronary flow was studied in Langendorff-perfused heart from streptozotocin-induced (50 mg/kg i.v.) diabetic rats where sensory neuropathy developed. In hearts from animals 4- and 8-week diabetes baseline heart rate and coronary flow decreased from 317.9 +/- 2.9 b.p.m. and 13.4 +/- 0.7 m/min to 255.1 +/- 12.7 and 219.8 +/- 2.8 b.p.m. and 8.9 +/- 0.6 and 10.0 +/- 0.1 ml/min (P<0.05), respectively. Capsaicin significantly decreased both variables in either normal or 4-week diabetic animals its effects, however, on coronary flow or heart rate were missing in preparations from 8-week diabetic rats. Endothelin-1 (0.1 nM), the putative mediator of the capsaicin effect, significantly decreased heart rate and coronary flow irrespective of the presence or absence of diabetes. In the femoral nerve of streptozotocin-treated animals conduction velocity involving both fast conducting A- and slow-conducting C-fibres was decreased proportional to the duration of the pre-existing diabetic state. It is concluded that in insulin deficient diabetes the diminished responses evoked by capsaicin on heart rate and coronary flow are signs of sensory neuropathy. This is related to a feeble endothelin release from sensory nerve endings without changes in post-receptor mechanisms mediating the endothelin effects.