BACKGROUND We investigated the anabolic effects of the sympatho-mimetic drug clenbuterol upon pumping chambers constructed from latissimus dorsi muscle (LDM). METHODS AND RESULTS In control and treatment groups (n = 4 dogs each), skeletal muscle ventricles (SMVs) were constructed followed by a 3-week recuperative delay and 6-7 weeks of electrical conditioning at 2 Hz to induce phenotypic expression of fatigue resistant slow muscle fibers. The treatment group received oral administration of clenbuterol (8 microg/kg, 2x/day) during this period. The clenbuterol group increased significantly in body weight as compared with the control group (P < 0.05). In a terminal experiment, the SMVs were assessed with a mock circulation device to determine pumping performance and also were examined with regard to fiber type distribution and area in the SMVs and their contralateral in situ LDMs. Initially the clenbuterol group performed better than the control group, but by the end of a 60-min fatigue test, there were no significant differences. With regard to fiber type distribution and areas, the SMVs of the clenbuterol group exhibited a fast fiber distribution similar to unconditioned muscles (28% +/- 4%), whereas the control group showed complete transformation (100%) to slow fibers. The fast fibers of the clenbuterol group were larger than control (P < 0.05), but the slow fibers were not significantly different. CONCLUSIONS At the dose given, clenbuterol does induce hypertrophy and preserves the normal percentages of fiber types, possibly by hyperplasia, but it does not affect chronic pumping performance of skeletal muscle ventricles in the canine model.