31P-NMR studies were performed to determine the tissue phosphate and oxygen consumption effects of known maneuvers on the activation of pyruvate dehydrogenase during work jumps in the perfused rat heart. In control studies of the glucose-perfused heart, work jumps, with pacing, resulted in a 32% increase in oxygen consumption (QO2) from 1.72 +/- 0.09 to 2.29 +/- 0.12 mmol O2.h-1.g dry wt-1. During this transition no significant change in the high energy phosphates were detected. In contrast, work jumps did cause changes in the phosphates when the activation of pyruvate dehydrogenase was blocked with 2.5 micrograms of ruthenium red per milliliter or maximally stimulated with 11 mM pyruvate before the increase in work. The observed increase in QO2 and inorganic phosphate and calculated increase in ADP are consistent with these phosphates controlling mitochondrial respiration under these conditions. These results suggest that the activation of pyruvate dehydrogenase and/or other dehydrogenases may be an important step in the orchestration of work and QO2.