In mammalian myocardium, muscle contraction is regulated by the rapid release of Ca2+ ions through ryanodine-sensitive Ca2+ release channels present in the intracellular membrane compartment, sarcoplasmic reticulum (SR). In this study, the effects of regional ischemia on intrinsic SR Ca2+ release channel function were determined by studying the Ca2+ transport and release, and [3H]ryanodine binding properties of whole muscle homogenates and SR-enriched membrane fractions from normal and ischemic myocardium. Measurement of oxalate-supported 45Ca(2+)-uptake rates before and after pretreatment with 1 mM ryanodine, indicated that the SR Ca2+ release channel retained its ability to be effectively closed by the channel-specific probe ryanodine after 15 and 60 min of ischemia. 45Ca2+ efflux from, and high-affinity [3H]ryanodine binding to SR-enriched vesicle fractions indicated retention of regulation of Ca2+ release channel activity by Ca2+, Mg2+ and adenine nucleotide in 15 and 60 min ischemic samples. Further, sodium dodecylsulfate polyacrylamide gel and immunoblot analysis revealed no proteolytic degradation of the M(r) 565,000 SR Ca2+ release channel polypeptide after 15 and 60 min of ischemia. These results suggested a minimal, if any, loss of intrinsic SR Ca2+ release channel function in ischemic hearts.