Prenalterol, a beta1 agonist, was given in a single blind acute intravenous study to seven patients with cardiac failure (New York Heart Association class II and III). It was then given in a double blind crossover study of sustained oral prenalterol to six of them. As a result of dose titration studies the oral dose of prenalterol given was 100 mg twice a day in all patients. Erect bicycle sprint tests were performed to exercise tolerance before and after treatment had been started. Cardiac function was assessed at rest and during graded supine bicycle exercise by determining haemodynamic indices using a Swan-Ganz catheter and radionuclide left ventricular ejection fractions. In the intravenous study cardiac function was assessed at rest and during exercise after a control infusion of dextrose and after an infusion of 5 mg prenalterol. In the oral crossover study a placebo or prenalterol were given for two periods of two weeks; at the end of each period exercise tolerance was measured and cardiac function assessed at rest and during exercise. Throughout the study period there was no change in symptoms, medication, or exercise tolerance. Intravenous prenalterol significantly improved cardiac function; left ventricular ejection fraction and cardiac index increased and left ventricular filling pressure fell both at rest and during exercise. Sustained oral treatment with prenalterol, however, did not improve resting left ventricular filling pressure or left ventricular ejection fraction at rest or during exercise but did increase heart rate at rest, and mean blood pressure and peripheral vascular resistance at rest and during exercise; in fact, during exercise left ventricular filling pressure was significantly increased while cardiac index and stroke volume index were decreased by prenalterol. Sustained oral treatment with prenalterol did not have the beneficial effects on cardiac function produced by intravenous treatment and in fact had deleterious effect on the measured indices of cardiac function during exercise.