Animals develop ‘infarct-like’ lesions when injected with isoproterenol (ISP), a potent synthetic catecholamine. These lesions are morphologically similar to those of ‘coagulative myocytolysis’ (COAM) or myofibrillar degeneration, one of the findings described in acute myocardial infarction and sudden death in man. Wistar rats were divided into 8 groups: some were injected with 10 mg/kg ISP i.p. plus 5 µCi of tritiated ISP, while others served as control. Animals were sacrificed at 5 and 30 min and 24 and 72 h. The ISP-induced lesions were studied by means of light microscopy, histochemistry, autoradiography and electron microscopy. Myofibrillar degeneration, positive tests for ischemia, increase of succinic dehydrogenase enzymes, hypercontraction and widening of Z bands of sarcomeres were correlated with the rapid distribution of ISP. These lesions were minimized by prenylamine, a drug which inhibits catecholamine effects by slowing down Ca transport. It is concluded that myocardial necrosis induced by ISP is probably due to a primary act on the sarcolemmal membrane, followed by stimulation of adenylate cyclase, activation of Ca and Na channels, exaggerated Ca inflow, excess of excitation-contraction coupling mechanism, energy consumption and cellular death. The close resemblance of human COAM to ISP-induced lesions suggests that similar mechanisms may be involved.