The control of optimum concentrations of ionized calcium Ca2+ during cardiopulmonary bypass is important in maintaining cardiac function and reducing reperfusion injury. Ca2+ may be in part dependent upon the serum level of citrate Cit in use of hemodiluted prime in pediatric cardiac surgery. The purpose of this study was to ascertain fluctuations of Ca2+ during bypass in relation to Cit and to study control of optimum Ca2+. Ca2+ and Cit was measured prior to and every 10 or 20 minutes during bypass in 12 children aged 21 days to 6 years. Of 6 patients (body weight less than 6 kg) received acid-citrate-dextrose (ACD) solution 20 ml before aortic declamp to give low Ca2+ for reducing reperfusion injury. Ca2+ showed initial drop and then gradually increased as the result of decreasing Cit. Ca2+ was inversely correlated with Cit (r = 0.85, p = 0.0001). When ACD 20 ml was added, Ca2+ significantly decreased from 1.00 +/- 0.13 to 0.65 +/- 0.13 mmol/l. However, Cit remained 24.3 +/- 13.3 mg/dl at the end of bypass. In conclusion, the results of this study suggest that gradually increasing Ca2+ during bypass may be related to the rate of citrate metabolism and the use of citrate for the control of Ca2+ remains questionable.