We have previously indicated that calpain inhibitor-1 prevents the heart from ischemia- reperfusion injury associated with the impairment of total Ca(2+) handling by inhibiting the proteolysis of alpha-fodrin. However, this inhibitor is insoluble with water and inappropriate for clinical application. The aim of the present study was to investigate the protective effect of a newly developed calpain inhibitor, SNJ-1945 (SNJ), with good aqueous solubility on left ventricular (LV) mechanical work and energetics in the cross-circulated rat hearts. SNJ (150 microM) was added to KCl (30 meq) cardioplegia (CP). Mean end-systolic pressure at midrange LV volume (ESP(mLVV)) and systolic pressure-volume area (PVA) at mLVV (PVA(mLVV); a total mechanical energy per beat) were hardly changed after CP plus SNJ arrest-reperfusion (post-CP + SNJ), whereas ESP(mLVV) and PVA(mLVV) in post-CP group were significantly (P < 0.01) decreased. Mean myocardial oxygen consumption for the total Ca(2+) handling in excitation-contraction coupling did not significantly decrease in post-CP + SNJ group, whereas it was significantly (P < 0.01) decreased in post-CP group. The mean amounts of 145- and 150-kDa fragments of alpha-fodrin in the post-CP group were significantly larger than those in normal and post-CP + SNJ groups. In contrast, the mean amounts of L-type Ca(2+) channel and sarcoplasmic reticulum Ca(2+)-ATPase were not significantly different among normal, post-CP, and post-CP + SNJ groups. Our results indicate that soluble SNJ attenuates cardiac dysfunction due to CP arrest-reperfusion injury associated with the impairment of the total Ca(2+) handling in excitation-contraction coupling by inhibiting the proteolysis of alpha-fodrin.