To understand how the coexistence of fast and slow contractile and regulatory systems within single skeletal muscle fibres might affect contractile behaviour, fibre segments from the fast-twitch extensor digitorum longus and predominantly slow-twitch soleus muscle of the adult rat were tied together, either in parallel or in series, and then activated in Ca(2+)- and Sr(2+)-buffered solutions. Experimental force-pCa and force-pSr relations were compared with theoretical force-pCa and force-pSr curves predicted by a model for composite fibres, which accounted for the coexistence of fast and slow myosin within the contractile unit and enabled an estimate to be made of the relative contribution of fast- and slow-twitch elements within the tied-fibre combinations. The contractile behaviour of a fast-twitch and a slow-twitch muscle fibre tied either in series or in parallel, were compared with the force-pCa and force-pSr data predicted from the composite fibre model. Interestingly, the resultant force-pCa(-pSr) curves of the parallel-tied fibre combinations were well fitted with those predicted by the composite model. However, the experimental force-pCa(-pSr) curves of the series-tied fibres were not well fitted by a composite curve based on the known proportion of fast- and slow-twitch fibre components. A total force-length diagram was devised to take into account changes in the length of the fibre segments tied in series during activation, as well as possible differences in fibre diameter. Using this diagram it was possible to explain accurately the Ca2+ and Sr2+ activation curves of known fast- and slow-twitch segments tied in series. The results from this study are important for the interpretation of contractile data obtained from single muscle fibres exhibiting mixed fast- and slow-twitch contractile characteristics. Such muscle fibres have previously been identified in animals affected by muscular diseases (e.g. dystrophy), in mammalian extraocular muscles and in animals subjected to long-term exercise training.