Catecholamine-induced triggered activity is thought to be caused by intracellular calcium overload mediated by elevation of intracellular cyclic AMP (cAMP). Although shown to occur in isolated preparations, evidence supporting its clinical existence has been lacking. Electrophysiologic studies were performed in four patients with structurally normal hearts who had exertionally related sustained ventricular tachycardia (VT). Programmed stimulation reproducibly initiated and terminated VT in all patients. Induction of tachycardia was also facilitated by infusion of isoproterenol. Adenosine, an endogenous nucleoside, whose only known electrophysiologic effect on ventricular myocardium and Purkinje fibers is antagonism of catecholamine-induced stimulation of intracellular cAMP production, reproducibly terminated all episodes of VT. The tachycardia was also terminated by intravenous verapamil and by the Valsalva maneuver and/or carotid sinus massage. Beta-Adrenergic receptor blockade with propranolol either terminated or prevented induction of VT during programmed stimulation or catecholamine challenge. Adenosine was also administered during VT to 14 patients whose arrhythmias fulfilled standard criteria for reentry, two of whom also had exercise-induced VT. Adenosine, at a dose (112.5 to 225 micrograms/kg iv) sufficient to cause either sinus slowing/arrest or ventriculoatrial block during ventricular pacing, failed to slow or terminate any episode of VT in these patients. Verapamil and autonomic modulation were also ineffective in this group of patients. Adenosine, verapamil, vagal maneuvers (acetylcholine), and beta-adrenergic receptor blockade are all known to decrease the slow-inward calcium current either directly by modulating calcium channels or indirectly by inhibiting production of cellular cAMP. Therefore the observation in this study that interventions that lower intracellular cAMP either terminate or prevent induction of VT in patients with structurally normal hearts and exercise-induced VT suggests that the mechanism of tachycardia may be cAMP-mediated triggered activity.