Depression in cardiac performance due to ischemia-reperfusion (I/R) injury is associated with the development of oxidative stress and decreased sarcolemmal (SL) Na+/K+-ATPase activity. Since both I/R and oxidative stress have been reported to promote the occurrence of intracellular Ca2+ overload and activate proteases such as calpain, this study was undertaken to investigate whether the activation of calpain in I/R hearts is associated with alterations in the SL Na+/K+-ATPase activity and its isoform content. For this purpose, isolated rat hearts treated with and without 2 different calpain inhibitors (leupeptin and MDL28170) were subjected to 30 min ischemia followed by 60 min of reperfusion, and the cardiac function, SL Na+/K+-ATPase activity, Na+/K+-ATPase isoform protein content, and calpain activity were measured. The I/R-induced depressions in cardiac function, Na+/K+-ATPase activity, and protein content of Na+/K+-ATPase isoforms were associated with an increase in calpain activity , but were prevented by treatment of hearts with leupeptin. Incubation of SL membranes with calpain decreased the Na+/K+-ATPase activity and protein content of its isoforms; these changes were also attenuated by leupeptin. The I/R-induced alterations in cardiac function and the activity of SL Na+/K+-ATPase and calpain were Ca2+-dependent and were prevented by MDL28170, a specific inhibitor of calpain. The I/R-induced translocation of calpain isoforms (I and II) from the cytosol to SL and the changes in distribution of calpastatin were also attenuated by treatment with calpain inhibitors. These results suggest that the depression in cardiac function and SL Na+/K+-ATPase activity in I/R hearts may be due to changes in the activity and translocation of calpain.