Nifedipine, a slow calcium-channel blocker, has been used to preserve myocardial function in the ischemic heart. To quantitatively evaluate the effectiveness of nifedipine as a cardioplegic agent during moderate hypothermia (28 degrees C), 15 pigs were evaluated on total and right heart bypass with measurement at normothermia and after 1 hour of hypothermic ischemia of stroke volume, coronary blood flow, myocardial oxygen consumption, and lactate extraction. Myocardial tissue gases (oxygen and carbon dioxide) were continuously monitored. Animals were divided into three groups: hypothermic ischemia, hypothermic ischemia with infusion of nifedipine carrier without nifedipine, and hypothermic ischemia with nifedipine and its carrier. A significant decrease in stroke volume was seen in all three groups; however, the depression was significantly greater following hypothermic ischemia than following cardioplegia with either nifedipine or its carrier. The mean recovery value of stroke volume was highest in the nifedipine group, but this difference between nifedipine and its carrier alone did not reach statistical significance. Coronary blood flow, myocardial oxygen consumption, lactate extraction, and tissue gases failed to substantiate a significant benefit when nifedipine was compared with its carrier alone. We conclude that under these hypothermic conditions, no proven statistically significant advantage was noted in the nifedipine group when compared with the nifedipine carrier group in swine. However, both nifedipine and the carrier were superior as a myocardial preservative when compared with hypothermic ischemic arrest alone.