Alteration in cardiac function is one of the hallmarks of diabetes and in late stage is manifested as a decrease in contractility. While it is established that the release of calcium ions from internal sarcoplasmic reticulum via type 2 ryanodine receptor calcium-release channels (RyR2) is vital for efficient contraction, the relationship between diabetes-induced decrease in cardiac performance and alterations in expression and/or function of RyR2 is not well delineated. The present study was designed to address this question and to determine whether changes to RyR2 induced by chronic diabetes could be minimized with insulin-treatment. When paced at 3.3 Hz (200 beats per minute), hearts from 8-week streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats showed decreased responsiveness to isoproterenol stimulation; +dT/dt and -dT/dt were 56.5 +/- 11.4% and 42.1 +/- 12.1% that of control, respectively. Hearts from 8-week diabetic rats expressed 51.2% less RyR2 than controls, In addition, RyR2 from diabetic rats also showed decreased ability to bind the specific ligand [3H]ryanodine (22.4 +/- 1.8% less [3H]ryanodine per microg of RyR2 protein), suggesting dysfunction. Two-weeks of insulin treatment, initiated after 6 weeks of untreated diabetes was able to minimize loss in function and expression of RyR2. Taken collectively, these data suggest that the decrease in cardiac contractility induced by chronic diabetes results in part from decreases in expression and alteration in function of RyR2 and these changes could be attenuated with insulin treatment.