We have shown recently that norepinephrine stimulates muscle cell hypertrophy in primary cultures from the neonatal rat ventricle and that this stimulation is not blocked by the beta adrenergic antagonist propranolol. The present study was done to define the adrenergic specificity of the myocyte hypertrophic response to norepinephrine. 90% pure, single-cell cultures of nongrowing myocytes were maintained in serum-free medium 199 with transferin and insulin. Myocyte size was quantitated 48 h after addition of adrenergic agents, by measuring cell volume, cell surface area, and cell protein. L-norepinephrine increased myocyte size to a maximum 150% of control; half-maximum effect was obtained at a concentration of 0.2 microM. This increase in cell size was inhibited by the nonselective alpha adrenergic antagonist phentolamine and by the alpha 1 adrenergic antagonists prazosin and terazosin; it was not inhibited by propranolol or by the alpha 2 adrenergic antagonist yohimbine. The beta adrenergic agonist isoproterenol did not increase cell size. Thus, norepinephrine-stimulated hypertrophy of cultured rat myocardial cells is an alpha 1 adrenergic response.