The sensitivity of the myocardium to ischemia and the level of protection achieved by ischemic preconditioning is shaped by the joint influence of several mechanisms in diabetes mellitus. In vivo studies were made in alloxan diabetic and non-diabetic control rabbits to assess if the effects of preconditioning and sulfonylurea pretreatment with either glibenclamide or glimepiride (0.05-0.2-0.6 micromol kg (-1)) influence the extent of the infarcted area caused by one hour ligature of the left coronary artery. For our study, we defined preconditioning as 2 minutes of ischemia followed by 2 minutes of reperfusion, which was repeated 3 times. The interrelationship of the diabetic pathophysiological state, and sulfonylurea treatment during ischemic preconditioning were studied by comparing the infarcted areas and the rate of infarction to risk areas in left ventricular slices using computer planimetry. In healthy control rabbits preconditioning reduced infarcted area (29.6 +/- 3.0% vs. 48.8 +/- 2.8% p < 0.0005), while in diabetic rabbits this protection did not occur (53.3 +/- 7.3% vs. 56.6 +/- 4.4% NS). Glibenclamide in all of applied doses prevented the protective effect in control animals (infarction/ risk area: HP: 0.47 +/- 0.04 vs. HP Glib-0.05 : 0.69+/-0.06 p< 0.004 vs. HP Glib-0.2 : 0.72+/-0.09 p< 0.002 vs. HP Glib-0.6 : 0.75 +/- 0.04 p< 0.001). In contrast, in diabetic rabbits low dose of glibenclamide contributed to the same development of preconditioning. However the highest dose of glibenclamide (infarction/risk area: DP Glib-0.6 : 0.77 +/- 0.17 vs. DP Glib-0.05 : 0.55 < 0.03 p < 0.047) and the consequences of the diabetic state blocked the salutary effect. Glimepiride had no considerable influence on the protective effect, either in control nor in diabetic animals. Glibenclamide and glimepiride, presumably due to their different sulfonylurea receptor affinity in the heart, resulted in different influence on preconditioning in healthy control animals. Glibenclamide treatment seemed to be more harmful when less K (+)ATP channels were activated. The accomplishment of myocardial preconditioning in diabetes mellitus is claimed to be determined by the interaction of both metabolically influenced K (+)ATP channel activity and the dose of sulfonylurea.