Inactivation of cardiac pyruvate dehydrogenase complex (PDC) after prolonged starvation and in response to hyperthyroidism is associated with enhanced protein expression of pyruvate dehydrogenase kinase (PDK) isoform 4. The present study examined the potential role of peroxisome-proliferator-activated receptor alpha (PPARalpha) in adaptive modification of cardiac PDK4 protein expression after starvation and in hyperthyroidism. PDK4 protein expression was analysed by immunoblotting in homogenates of hearts from fed or 48 h-starved rats, rats rendered hyperthyroid by subcutaneous injection of tri-iodothyronine and a subgroup of euthyroid rats maintained on a high-fat/low-carbohydrate diet, with or without treatment with the PPARalpha agonist WY14,643. In addition, PDK4 protein expression was analysed in hearts from fed, 24 h-starved or 6 h-refed wild-type or PPARalpha-null mice. PPARalpha activation by WY14,643 in vivo over the timescale of the response to starvation failed to up-regulate cardiac PDK4 protein expression in rats maintained on standard diet (WY14,643, 1.1-fold increase; starvation, 1.8-fold increase) or influence the cardiac PDK4 response to starvation. By contrast, PPARalpha activation by WY14,643 in vivo significantly enhanced cardiac PDK4 protein expression in rats maintained on a high-fat diet, which itself increased cardiac PDK4 protein expression. PPARalpha deficiency did not abolish up-regulation of cardiac PDK4 protein expression in response to starvation (2.9-fold increases in both wild-type and PPARalpha-null mice). Starvation and hyperthyroidism exerted additive effects on cardiac PDK4 protein expression, but PPARalpha activation by WY14,643 did not influence the response of cardiac PDK4 protein expression to hyperthyroidism in either the fed or starved state. Our data support the hypothesis that cardiac PDK4 protein expression is regulated, at least in part, by a fatty acid-dependent, PPARalpha-independent mechanism and strongly implicate a fall in insulin in either initiating or facilitating the response of cardiac PDK4 protein expression to starvation.