We have recently shown that thyroid hormone in physiological concentrations stimulates sarcolemma-enriched rabbit-myocardial-membrane Ca2+-ATPase in vitro. In this study, milrinone [2-methyl-5-cyano-(3,4'-bipyridin)-6(1H)-one], a cardiac inotropic agent, was thyromimetic in the same system. At clinically achievable concentrations (50-500 nM), milrinone significantly stimulated membrane Ca2+-ATPase in vitro. This action was antagonized by W-7 [N-(6-aminohexyl)-5-chloro-1-naphthalenesulfonamide], an agent that also blocks thyroid hormone action on the Ca2+-ATPase, at concentrations as low as 5 microM. Progressive additions of milrinone to membranes incubated with a fixed concentration of thyroxine (0.10 nM) or triiodothyronine resulted in a progressive obliteration of the thyroid hormone effect on Ca2+-ATPase. Amrinone [5-amino-(3,4'-bipyridin)-6(1H)-one], the parent bipyridine of milrinone, had no effect on myocardial Ca2+-ATPase activity. X-ray crystallographic analysis of milrinone and amrinone revealed structural homologies between the phenolic ring of thyroxine and the substituted ring of milrinone, whereas amrinone did not share these homologies. The mechanism(s) of the inotropic actions of thyroxine and of milrinone is not clearly understood, but these observations implicate Ca2+-ATPase, a calcium pump-associated enzyme, as one mediator of the effects on the heart of these two compounds.