The effect of voluntary exercise on cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) levels of immunoreactive beta-endorphin has been studied in the spontaneously hypertensive rat (SHR). The exercise consisted of 5-6 weeks of spontaneous running in wheels and the average running distance was 3.5 +/- 0.4 km/24 h. CSF samples were obtained under anaesthesia from the cisterna magna. Five experimental groups were examined, four groups of runners and one group of sedentary controls. The runners were sampled either (a) shortly (0-3 h) after termination of exercise, or after the wheel had been locked for (b) 24, (c) 48 or (d) 96 h. The runners in group a had significantly higher immunoreactive beta-endorphin levels than the controls. The levels remained increased as compared with controls after 24 and 48 h of enforced abstinence but had returned to control after 96 h. The data indicate that voluntary exercise induces adaptive changes in central beta-endorphin systems.