The effects of genetic obesity on the actions and alterations of the sympathetic nervous system were studied in 10-12-month-old obese (fa/fa) and lean (Fa/-) Zucker rats. Blood glucose, plasma insulin, epinephrine (E), norepinephrine (NE), and free fatty acids (FFA) concentrations were measured in blood samples taken through a permanent heart catheter before, during, and after exercise or intravenous infusion of E and NE. Baseline plasma FFA and insulin levels were markedly increased in the obese animals. Exercise, i.e., strenuous swimming against a counter current for 15 min, led to reduction of plasma insulin concentrations and an increase of all other blood components in lean Zucker rats. In obese animals, an exaggerated increase of blood glucose and a large suppression of plasma insulin occurred. Plasma FFA levels tended to decline during exercise. Plasma catecholamine patterns in the exercising fatty Zuckers were not different to those of the lean animals. Infusion of E caused an increase of blood glucose and a decrease of plasma insulin concentrations in both groups of animals. The increase in blood glucose in the obese animals was significantly larger compared to the changes in the lean animals. Infusion of NE significantly reduced plasma insulin concentration in obese but not in lean animals. The results revealed that activation of the sympathetic system, expressed as exercise-induced alterations in plasma E and NE levels, is normal in obese Zucker rats. However, postsynaptic receptor effects of catecholamines on glycogenolysis and lipolysis are different in obese and lean animals, which points to permanent changes in adrenoceptor mechanisms on adipocytes, hepatocytes, and muscle cells in obesity.