Plasma levels of myocardial enzymes present after local heart irradiation were studied in a rat model. The purpose was to investigate whether, within days after irradiation, these enzyme levels change to such an extent that they may be helpful in assessing the severity of cardiac damage after radiotherapy. Therefore, activities of creatine kinase (CK), lactate dehydrogenase (LDH), aspartate aminotransferase (AST), alanine aminotransferase (ALT), and alpha-hydroxybutyrate dehydrogenase (alpha-HBDH) were determined in the plasma and left ventricular myocardium of rats following local heart irradiation with a single dose of 20 Gy. A dose of 20 Gy is known to cause irreversible cardiac damage and to reduce survival times of the animals. Cardiac enzyme assays were performed directly after and twice daily for up to 2 weeks after radiation. Plasma CK, LDH, AST and alpha-HBDH levels were increased between 2 h and 24 h after irradiation. Plasma ALT levels remained unchanged. Myocardial enzyme levels, measured between 24 h and 16 days after radiation, did not differ between irradiated and control animals, although acute (first 12 h) reductions were observed in the irradiated group. The elevated enzyme levels in plasma appeared to correlate with the acutely reduced myocardial enzyme levels. Although irradiation with a dose of 20 Gy induced acute rises of cardiac enzyme levels in plasma, it is doubtful that fractionated radiation, as applied clinically for treatment of solid tumors, will induce plasma enzyme elevations that are large enough to indicate the extent of cardiac damage occurring acutely or chronically.