We have used mice with inborn errors of mitochondrial fatty acid beta-oxidation to test the concept of synergistic heterozygosity. We postulated that clinical disease can result from heterozygous mutations in more than one gene in single or related metabolic pathways. Mice with combinations of mutations in mitochondrial fatty acid beta-oxidation genes were cold challenged to test their ability to maintain normal body temperature, a sensitive indicator of overall beta-oxidation function. This included mice of the following genotypes: triple heterozygosity for mutations in very-long-chain acyl CoA dehydrogenase, long-chain acyl CoA dehydrogenase, and short-chain acyl CoA dehydrogenase genes (VLCAD+/-//LCAD+/-//SCAD+/-); double heterozygosity for mutations in VLCAD and LCAD genes (VLCAD+/-//LCAD+/-); double heterozygosity for mutations in LCAD and SCAD genes (LCAD+/-//SCAD+/-); single heterozygous mice (VLCAD+/-, LCAD+/-, SCAD+/-) and wild-type. We found that approximately 33% of mice with any of the combined mutant genotypes tested became hypothermic during a cold challenge. All wild-type and single heterozygous mice maintained normal body temperature throughout a cold challenge. Despite development of hypothermia in some double heterozygous mice, blood glucose concentrations remained normal. Biochemical screening by acylcarnitine and fatty acid analyses demonstrated results that varied by genotype. Thus, physiologic reduction of the beta-oxidation pathway, characterized as cold intolerance, occurred in mice with double or triple heterozygosity; however, the derangement was milder than in mice homozygous for any of these mutations. These results substantiate the concept of synergistic heterozygosity and illustrate the potential complexity involved in diagnosis and characterization of inborn errors of fatty acid metabolism in humans.