Coronary artery reperfusion following acute myocardial ischemia may salvage ischemic jeopardized cells. We studied the effects of early brief reperfusion on totally ischemic and on partially ischemic myocardium of open-chest pigs. In 10 animals, coronary flow was reduced to 0% for 30 minutes and was followed by 10 minutes reperfusion (group A). In another 10 animals, coronary flow was reduced to 25% of the baseline value for 30 minutes followed by 10 minutes of reperfusion (group B). In another eight animals coronary flow was reduced to 25% of the baseline value for 60 minutes and followed by 10 minutes of reperfusion (group C). Results showed that a brief 10-minute period of reperfusion of ischemic myocardium after total occlusion caused abnormal diastolic wall thickening with only partial return of systolic wall thickening. However, reperfusion of ischemic myocardium after partial occlusion, whether 30 or 60 minutes, caused little diastolic wall thickening and a partial return of systolic thickening. A marked elevation of myocardial Ca2+, a decrease in mitochondrial adenosine triphosphate (ATP) production and cellular ATP concentration, and a reduction in the rate of Ca2+ uptake by sarcoplasmic reticulum vesicles occurred in the totally ischemic myocardium but not in the partially ischemic myocardium. These results demonstrate that reperfusion of ischemic myocardium after 1 hour of coronary flow reduction to 25% of baseline is less damaging than reperfusion after a 30-minute total coronary occlusion, and suggest that preexisting states affecting coronary flow need to be evaluated in assessing the outcome of reperfusion.