1. Experiments were performed to investigate how profound cooling affects adrenergic neurotransmission and vascular smooth muscle reactivity in isolated saphenous veins of the dog. 2. Cooling from 37 to 5 degrees C caused progressive depression of the contractile responses to high K+ solutions, illustrating the direct inhibitory effect of cooling on depolarization-induced contraction of the venous smooth muscle cells. 3. During prolonged cooling to 20, 15 and 10 degrees C, the contractile response to exogenous norepinephrine (10(-8)-10(-6) M) was augmented compared to that at 37 degrees C. At 5 degrees C responses up to 10(-7) M were also augmented, but those at higher concentrations were depressed. When veins contracted with 2 x 10(-6) M-norepinephrine were cooled to 20, 15, 10 and 5 degrees C, there was a further increase in tension; this increase slowly subsided to control values at 5 degrees C but was sustained at the other temperatures. 4. Cooling to 20 and 15 degrees C augmented the contraction caused by low but not high frequencies of electrical stimulation of the adrenergic nerve endings. Further cooling to 10 degrees C depressed, and at 5 degrees C abolished the response, demonstrating that profound cooling interrupted adrenergic neurotransmission. 5. In rings stimulated electrically at a low frequency (0.5 Hz), warming from 7 to 9 degrees C or from 9 to 11 degrees C, caused marked increases in tension. This may be explained by the combination of resumption of adrenergic neurotransmission and the increased responsiveness of the cutaneous venous smooth muscle cells to adrenaline. 6. The combination of enhanced affinity for noradrenaline combined with inhibition of neurotransmitter disposition probably permits the cutaneous veins to remain constricted during exposure to severe cold.