During cardiac arrest (CA), myocardial perfusion is solely dependent on cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) although closed-chest compressions only provide about 10-20% of normal myocardial perfusion. The study was conducted in a whole animal CPR model to determine whether CPR-generated oxygen delivery preserves or worsens mitochondrial function. Male Sprague-Dawley rats (400-450 g) were randomly divided into four groups: (1) BL (instrumentation only, no cardiac arrest), (2) CA(15) (15 min cardiac arrest without CPR), (3) CA(25) (25 min cardiac arrest without CPR) and (4) CPR (15 min cardiac arrest, followed by 10 min CPR). The differences between groups were evaluated by measuring mitochondrial respiration, electron transport chain (ETC) complex activities and mitochondrial ultrastructure by transmission electron microscopy (TEM). The CA(25) group had the greatest impairment of mitochondrial respiration and ETC complex activities (I-III). In contrast, the CPR group was not different from the CA(15) group regarding all measures of mitochondrial function. Complex I was more susceptible to ischemic injury than the other complexes and was the major determinant of mitochondrial dysfunction. Observations of mitochondrial ultrastructure by TEM were compatible with the biochemical results. The findings suggest that, despite low blood flow and oxygen delivery, CPR is able to preserve heart mitochondrial function and viability during ongoing global ischemia. Preservation of complex I activity and mitochondrial function during cardiac arrest may be an important mechanism underlying the beneficial effects of CPR which have been shown in clinical studies.