K201 has previously been shown to reduce diastolic contractions in vivo during β-adrenergic stimulation and elevated extracellular calcium concentration ([Ca2+]o). The present study characterised the effect of K201 on electrically stimulated and spontaneous diastolic sarcoplasmic reticulum (SR)-mediated Ca2+ release and contractile events in isolated rat cardiomyocytes during β-adrenergic stimulation and elevated [Ca2+]o. Parallel experiments using confocal microscopy examined spontaneous diastolic Ca2+ release events at an enhanced spatiotemporal resolution. 1.0 μmol/L K201 in the presence of 150 nmol/L isoproterenol (ISO) and 4.75 mmol/L [Ca2+]o significantly decreased the amplitude of diastolic contractions to ~16% of control levels. The stimulated free Ca2+ transient amplitude was significantly reduced, but stimulated cell shortening was not significantly altered. When intracellular buffering was taken into account, K201 led to an increase in action potential-induced SR Ca2+ release. Myofilament sensitivity to Ca2+ was not changed by K201. Confocal microscopy revealed diastolic events composed of multiple Ca2+ waves (2–3) originating at various points along the cardiomyocyte length during each diastolic period. 1.0 μmol/L K201 significantly reduced the (a) frequency of diastolic events and (b) initiation points/diastolic interval in the remaining diastolic events to 61% and 71% of control levels respectively. 1.0 μmol/L K201 can reduce the probability of spontaneous diastolic Ca2+ release and their associated contractions which may limit the propensity for the contractile dysfunction observed in vivo. Electronic supplementary material The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s00395-011-0218-4) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.