To determine the temporal relationship between changes in contractile performance and flux through the citric acid cycle in hearts oxidizing acetoacetate, we perfused isolated working rat hearts with either glucose or acetoacetate (both 5 mM) and freeze-clamped the tissue at defined times. After 60 min of perfusion, hearts utilizing acetoacetate exhibited lower systolic and diastolic pressures and lower cardiac outputs. The oxidation of acetoacetate increased the tissue content of 2-oxoglutarate and glutamate and decreased the content of succinyl-CoA suggesting inhibition of citric acid cycle flux through 2-oxoglutarate dehydrogenase. Whereas hearts perfused with either acetoacetate or glucose were similar with respect to their function for the first 20 min, changes in tissue metabolites were already observed within 5 min of perfusion at near-physiological workloads. The addition of lactate or propionate, but not acetate, to hearts oxidizing acetoacetate improved contractile performance, although inhibition of 2-oxoglutarate dehydrogenase was probably not diminished. If lactate or propionate were added, malate and citrate accumulated indicating utilization of anaplerotic pathways for the citric acid cycle. We conclude that a decreased rate of flux through 2-oxoglutarate dehydrogenase in hearts oxidizing acetoacetate precedes, and may be responsible for, contractile failure and is not the result of decreased cardiac work. Further, anaplerosis play an important role in the maintenance of contractile function in hearts utilizing acetoacetate.