Tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) and phenylethanolamine-N-methyltransferase (PNMT) activities were assayed in adrenal glands of the following groups of the Alaskan red-backed vole (Clethrionomys rutilus dawsoni): 1) laboratory reared at 20 degrees C and 2) exposed to 5 degrees C for 1, 3, 7, and 28 days; 3) wild, summer acclimatized; 4) wild, fall acclimatized; and 5) wild, winter acclimatized. TH activity in laboratory-acclimated voles exposed to 5 degrees C was increased by 2 times after 3 days and remained elevated after 28 days. PNMT activity in these same voles was increased after 7 days and also remained elevated after 28 days of cold exposure. In wild-acclimatized voles TH activity and PNMT activity in summer were equivalent to levels in 28-day cold-acclimated laboratory voles. In fall, TH activity was increased to 2.5 times the summer value. It decreased by midwinter, but remained elevated above the summer level. In contrast, PNMT activity appeared unchanged from summer through fall and winter. Pregnant summer voles had markedly increased TH activity. Adrenal norepinephrine and epinephrine did not change significantly with cold acclimation or seasonal acclimatization. Thus, acclimatization of wild voles to fall and winter conditions involved aquisition of a greater capacity to synthesize adrenal catecholamines than that produced by exposing laboratory-reared voles to an extended period of cold.