The purpose of this investigation was to examine cardiac function and biochemistry in spontaneously diabetic BB rats, a strain in which diabetes occurs spontaneously and closely resembles insulin-dependent diabetes in humans. The study involved two groups: nondiabetic littermates of BB rats and BB diabetic rats treated daily with a very low insulin dose such that the rats were severely hyperglycemic and hyperlipidemic. The hearts from these two groups were isolated and heart function (using isolated perfused working hearts) and biochemistry were examined 6 weeks after the onset of diabetes. BB diabetic rats exhibited a lower calcium-stimulated myosin ATPase activity and depressed left ventricular developed pressure, cardiac contractility, and ventricular relaxation rates compared with BB nondiabetic littermates. These results suggest that the chronically diabetic state in the BB rat produces cardiac changes similar to those demonstrable after chemical diabetes induced by alloxan or STZ, or that seen during human diabetes mellitus.