AIMS/HYPOTHESIS: The regulation of skeletal muscle lipolysis is not fully understood. In the present study, the effects of systemic and local noradrenaline administration on lipolysis and blood flow rates in skeletal muscle and adipose tissue were studied in vivo. METHODS: First, circulating noradrenaline levels were raised tenfold by a continuous i.v. infusion (n=12). Glycerol levels (an index of lipolysis) were measured in m. gastrocnemius and in abdominal adipose tissue using microdialysis. Local blood flow was determined with the (133)Xe clearance technique and whole-body lipolysis rates assessed with a stable glycerol isotope technique ([(2)H(5)] glycerol). Second, interstitial glycerol levels in m. gastrocnemius, m. vastus and adipose tissue were measured by microdialysis during local perfusion with noradrenaline (10(-8)-10(-6) mol/l) (n=10). Local blood flow was monitored with the ethanol perfusion technique. RESULTS: With regard to systemic noradrenergic stimulation, no change in fractional release of glycerol (difference between tissue and arterial glycerol) was seen in skeletal muscle. In adipose tissue it transiently increased twofold (p<0.0001), and the rate of appearance of glycerol in plasma showed the same kinetic pattern. Blood flow was reduced by 40% in skeletal muscle (p<0.005) and increased by 50% in adipose tissue (p<0.05). After noradrenaline stimulation in situ, a discrete elevation of skeletal muscle glycerol was registered only at the highest concentration of noradrenaline (10(-6) mol/l) (p<0.05). Adipose tissue glycerol doubled already at the lowest concentration (10(-8) mol/l) (p<0.05). In skeletal muscle a decrease in blood flow was seen at the highest noradrenaline concentrations (p<0.05). CONCLUSIONS/INTERPRETATION: Lipolysis and blood flow rates are regulated differently in adipose tissue and skeletal muscle. Adipose tissue displays a high, but transient (tachyphylaxia) sensitivity to noradrenaline, leading to stimulation of both lipolysis and blood flow rates. In skeletal muscle, physiological concentrations of noradrenaline decrease blood flow but have no stimulatory effect on lipolysis rates.