This study was undertaken to assess the effect of a calcium antagonist, nicardipine (N), added in a cardioplegic solution on the ischemic myocardium. Isolated rat hearts were perfused with oxygenated Krebs Ringer Bicarbonate (KRB) solution by Langendorff's perfusion method and were subjected to 2 hours of ischemic arrest at 30 degrees C with multidose cardioplegia (every 30 min, for 5 min) and a subsequent 60 min of reperfusion. HR, LVP, coronary flow and oxygen tension of coronary effluent were monitored. Oxygen saturation of intracellular myoglobin and redox state of mitochondrial cytochrome aa3 in the myocardial cell were continuously measured throughout studies by a spectrophotometer. Oxygenated crystalloid cardioplegic solution (KRB) containing 25 mM of potassium was used. 40 rats were divided into 4 groups (10 rats each) according to the concentration of N (none, 0.5, 1 and 2 mg/L) in fully oxygenated potassium cardioplegic solution (PO2: 601 +/- 31 mmHg). The percent recovery of pressure-rate product after reperfusion was compared in each group and the optimal concentration of N was found to be 1 mg per liter of cardioplegic solution. No significant difference was found between Group Ia (N = 0 mg/L) and Group Ib (N = 1 mg/L) in metabolic or hemodynamic recovery after reperfusion. In other experiments, 40 rats in Group IIa (N = 0 mg/L, n = 20) and Group IIb (N = 1 mg/L, n = 20) received 10 ml of poorly oxygenated cardioplegic solution (PO2: 215 +/- 10 mmHg) on each reinfusion followed by a 25 min interval of ischemic arrest. The index of oxygen utilization, MVO2/pressure-rate product after reperfusion was significantly lower in Group IIb than in Group IIa (p less than 0.05). The results show that the addition of N (1 mg/L) to the cardioplegic solution preserved a more aerobic state (higher intracellular oxygen level) in the myocardium by further suppressing myocardial oxygen demand during the ischemic period which resulted in better myocardial protection. Therefore, it is concluded that the addition of N to the cardioplegic solution enhances myocardial preservation during myocardial ischemia.