We report that SB203580 (SB), a specific inhibitor of p38-MAPK, protects pig myocardium against ischemic injury in an in vivo model. SB was applied by local infusion into the subsequently ischemic myocardium for 60 min before a 60-min period of coronary occlusion followed by 60-min reperfusion (index ischemia). Infarct size was reduced from a control value of 69.3 +/- 2.7% to 36.8 +/- 3.7%. When SB was infused systemically for 10 min before index ischemia, infarct size was reduced to 36.1 +/- 5.6%. We measured the content of phosphorylated p38-MAPK after systemic infusion of SB and Krebs-Henseleit buffer (KHB; negative control) and during the subsequent ischemic period using an antibody that reacts specifically with dual-phosphorylated p38-MAPK (Thr180/ Tyr182). Ischemia with and without SB significantly increased phospho-p38-MAPK, with a maximum reached at 20 min but was less at 30 and 45 min under the influence of the inhibitor. The systemic infusion of SB for 10 min before index ischemia did not significantly change the p38-MAPK activities (compared with vehicle, studied by in-gel phosphorylation) < or =20 min of ischemia, but activities were reduced at 30 and 45 min. Measurements of p38-MAPK activities in situations in which SB was present during in-gel phosphorylation showed significant inhibition of p38-MAPK activities. The systemic infusion of SB significantly inhibited the ischemia-induced phosphorylation of nuclear activating transcription factor 2 (ATF-2). Using a specific ATF-2 antibody, we did not observe significant changes in ATF-2 abundance when nuclear fractions from untreated, KHB-, and SB-treated tissues were compared. We investigated also the effect of local and systemic infusion of SB on the cardioprotection induced by ischemic preconditioning (IP). The infusions (local or systemic) of SB before and during the IP protocol did not influence the infarct size reduction mediated by IP. The observed protection of the myocardium against ischemic damage by SB points to the negative role of the p38-MAPK pathway during ischemia.