Calcium channel blockers have been advocated as agents which enhance myocardial protection during ischemia and reperfusion. Unfortunately, while cellular integrity is preserved, myocardial function is depressed as a result of the negative inotropic effects of these agents. In order to assess the efficacy of verapamil cardioplegia, 25 isolated perfused rabbit hearts were studied. A model of normothermic ischemic arrest was utilized, employing either verapamil-free crystalloid cardioplegia or cardioplegia containing verapamil in concentrations of 0.5, 1.0, or 5.0 mg/liter. All three verapamil-treated groups demonstrated increased postischemic left ventricular developed pressure and improved postischemic compliance when compared with the untreated group (P less than 0.05). However, myocardial function was significantly depressed at 15 min of reperfusion in the 1.0 and 5.0 mg/liter verapamil-treated groups when compared with the 0.5 ml/liter group (P less than 0.05). These data suggest that the addition of verapamil to crystalloid cardioplegia results in enhanced myocardial function while minimizing the early reperfusion depression associated with higher dose therapy.