The contribution of 5'-nucleotidase and AMP-deaminase to adenine nucleotide degradation in human cardiomyocytes isolated from diseased or normal heart was investigated. The preparation used contained 30 to 50% of viable cells and the nucleotide degradation was stimulated by addition of deoxyglucose and oligomycin. To distinguish pathways of nucleotide degradation, adenosine deaminase was inhibited by erythro-9-(2-hydroxy-3-nonyl) adenine (EHNA). Under these conditions, ATP concentration was decreased by 60% after 45 min of incubation. Simultaneously, increases in intra- and extracellular catabolite concentrations have been observed. Adenosine was the predominant catabolite found in both the cells and in the extracellular medium accounting for more than 70% of all degradation products. Intracellular adenosine concentration rose to 300 times greater than that outside the cell. An increase in intra- and extracellular inosine was also seen. Only a small increase of IMP concentration was observed. No hypoxanthine accumulation was found. No significant change in initial adenine nucleotide concentrations were observed in isolated cells during aerobic incubation without deoxyglucose and oligomycin. In conclusion, a pathway involving adenosine production appears to be the principal route of nucleotide degradation in human cardiomyocytes.