We propose that ischemic preconditioning (IPC) and mitochondrial K(ATP) channel activation protect the myocardium by inhibiting mitochondrial permeability transition pore (MPTP) opening at reperfusion. Isolated rat hearts were subjected to 35 min ischemia/120 min reperfusion and assigned to the following groups: (1) control; (2) IPC of 2x5 min each of preceding global ischemia; (3,4,5) 0.2 micromol/l cyclosporin A (CsA, which inhibits MPTP opening), 5 micromol/l FK506 (which inhibits the phosphatase calcineurin without inhibiting MPTP opening), or 20 micromol/l atractyloside (Atr, a MPTP opener) given at reperfusion; (6,7) pre-treatment with 30 micromol/l diazoxide (Diaz, a mitochondrial K(ATP) channel opener) or 200 nmol/l 2 chloro-N(6)-cyclopentyl-adenosine (CCPA, an adenosine A1 receptor agonist); (8) IPC+Atr; (9) Diaz+Atr; (10) CCPA+Atr. The effect of mitochondrial K(ATP) channel activation on calcium-induced MPTP opening in isolated calcein-loaded mitochondria was also assessed. IPC, CsA when given at reperfusion, and pre-treatment with diazoxide or CCPA all limited infarct size (19.9+/-2.6% in IPC; 24.6+/-1.9% in CsA, 18.0+/-1.7% in Diaz, 20.4+/-3.3% in CCPA vs. 44.7+/-2.0% in control, P<0.0001). Opening the MPTP with atractyloside at reperfusion abolished this cardio-protective effect (47.7+/-1.8% in IPC+Atr, 42.3+/-3.2% in Diaz+Atr, 51.2+/-1.6% in CCPA+Atr). Atractyloside and FK506, given at reperfusion, did not influence infarct size (45.7+/-2.1% in Atr and 43.1+/-3.6% in FK506 vs. 44.7+/-2.0% in control, P=NS). Diazoxide (30 micromol/l) was shown to reduce calcium-induced MPTP opening by 52.5+/-8.0% in calcein-loaded mitochondria. 5-Hydroxydecanoic acid (100 micromol/l) was able to abolish the cardio-protective effects of both diazoxide and IPC. One interpretation of these data is that IPC and mitochondrial K(ATP) channel activation may protect the myocardium by inhibiting MPTP opening at reperfusion.