Hypothermia during calcium-free perfusion of hearts protects them from injury caused by subsequent calcium repletion at 37 C (calcium paradox). Injury to calcium-free hearts is also associated with contracture caused by anoxia, 2,4-dinitrophenol (DNP), or caffeine. This study was done for the purpose of determining whether hypothermia during calcium-free perfusions protects hearts from contracture-associated injury. Langendorff-perfused rat hearts were studied in four experimental groups: I) Anoxia: Thirty minutes of anoxic perfusion at 37 C was followed by thirty minutes of anoxic calcium-free perfusion at 37-18 C. II) Calcium paradox: Five minutes of calcium-free perfusion at 37-18 C was followed by calcium repletion at 37 C. III, IVa) Caffeine or DNP: Five minutes of calcium-free perfusion at 37-18 C was followed by addition of 10 mM caffeine or 1 mM DNP in calcium-free medium at 37 C or, IVb) 1 mM DNP in calcium-free medium at 22 C. Injury was assessed by measurement of serial releases of creatine kinase (CK) in effluents and by cellular morphology. The results show that progressive hypothermia to 22 C during calcium-free perfusion periods produced a progressive reduction of CK release and morphologic evidence of injury due to anoxia, caffeine, or DNP, which closely paralleled protection of hearts from the calcium paradox. Protection from injury in all experimental groups was associated with preservation of sarcolemmal membrane integrity and prevention of cell separations at intercalated disk junctions. It is proposed that weakening of intercalated disks occurs during calcium-free perfusions and may be a cause of mechanical fragility of the sarcolemma. Hypothermia may protect hearts from contracture-associated injury by preserving the integrity of intercalated disk junctions during periods of extracellular calcium depletion.