Ageing is associated with a blunted response to sympathetic stimulation and an increased risk of arrhythmia and sudden cardiac death. Aberrant calcium (Ca(2+)) handling is an important contributor to the electrical and contractile dysfunction associated with ageing. Yet, the specific molecular mechanisms underlying abnormal Ca(2+) handling in ageing heart remain poorly understood. In this study, we used ventricular myocytes isolated from young (5-9 months) and old (4-6 years) rabbit hearts to test the hypothesis that changes in Ca(2+) homeostasis are caused by post-translational modification of ryanodine receptors (RyRs) by mitochondria-derived reactive oxygen species (ROS) generated in the ageing heart. Changes in parameters of Ca(2+) handling were determined by measuring cytosolic and intra-sarcoplasmic reticulum (SR) Ca(2+) dynamics in intact and permeabilized ventricular myocytes using confocal microscopy. We also measured age-related changes in ROS production and mitochondria membrane potential using a ROS-sensitive dye and a mitochondrial voltage-sensitive fluorescent indicator, respectively. In permeablized myocytes, ageing did not change SERCA activity and spark frequency but decreased spark amplitude and SR Ca(2+) load suggesting increased RyR activity. Treatment with the antioxidant dithiothreitol reduced RyR-mediated SR Ca(2+) leak in permeabilized myocytes from old rabbit hearts to the level comparable to young. Moreover, myocytes from old rabbits had more depolarized mitochondria membrane potential and increased rate of ROS production. Under β-adrenergic stimulation, Ca(2+) transient amplitude, SR Ca(2+) load, and latency of pro-arrhythmic spontaneous Ca(2+) waves (SCWs) were decreased while RyR-mediated SR Ca(2+) leak was increased in cardiomyocytes from old rabbits. Additionally, with β-adrenergic stimulation, scavenging of mitochondrial ROS in myocytes from old rabbit hearts restored redox status of RyRs, which reduced SR Ca(2+) leak, ablated most SCWs, and increased latency to levels comparable to young. These data indicate that an age-associated increase of ROS production by mitochondria leads to the thiol-oxidation of RyRs, which underlies the hyperactivity of RyRs and thereby shortened refractoriness of Ca(2+) release in cardiomyocytes from the ageing heart. This mechanism probably plays an important role in the increased incidence of arrhythmia and sudden death in the ageing population.