Diabetes mellitus is frequently associated with the complications of cardiovascular disease. Activation of the aldose reductase (or polyol) pathway has long been implicated as an underlying factor for the development of many diabetic complications and indeed, treatment with aldose reductase inhibitors has been shown to prevent or reverse many of these diabetic complications. This study examines the effects of 14-day streptozotocin-induced diabetes on α1- and β-adrenoceptor-mediated responses in rat isolated left and right atria. The effects of treatment with the aldose reductase inhibitor (ARI) sorbinil were also studied. A positive inotropic response was observed to both isoprenaline and phenylephrine in left atria. Diabetes of 14 days duration resulted in a supersensitivity of these tissues to the β-adrenoceptor agonist in comparison with controls, while responses to the α1-adrenoceptor agonist were unaltered. Spontaneously beating right atria from diabetic rats was found to have a depressed resting rate compared with control tissues, although positive chronotropic β-adrenoceptor-mediated responses were not affected by diabetes. Phenylephrine produced α1-adrenoceptor-mediated chronotropic responses in right atrial tissues, and these were found to be enhanced in rats with diabetes. Treatment of diabetic rats with the ARI sorbinil was successful in preventing only one of the observed diabetes-induced changes in atrial function, namely the supersensitivity of left atria to isoprenaline. Sorbinil treatment did, however, alter responses of control left and right atria in a manner similar to diabetes. In conclusion, streptozotocin-induced diabetes of 14 days duration was found to cause a number of alterations in the functioning of both left and right atria. ARI treatment with sorbinil failed to prevent all but one of these changes, and in addition altered responses of atria from control rats, having a similar effect to that produced by diabetes. These data suggest that sorbinil may have effects in addition to, and independent of, aldose reductase inhibition in the cardiovascular system.