High mobility group box 1 protein (HMGB1) plays an important role in myocardial ischemia and reperfusion (I/R) injury. Ethyl pyruvate (EP), a potent reactive oxygen species scavenger, has been reported to inhibit myocardial apoptosis and reduce myocardial I/R injury. The aim of this study was to investigate the mechanism by which EP reduces myocardial I/R injury in rats. Anesthetized male rats were once treated with EP (50 mg/kg, i.p.) before ischemia, and then subjected to ischemia for 30 min followed by reperfusion for 4 h. Lactate dehydrogenase (LDH), creatine kinase (CK), malondialdehyde (MDA), superoxide dismutase (SOD) activity and infarct size were measured. HMGB1 expression was assessed by immunoblotting. The results showed that pretreatment of EP (50 mg/kg) could significantly reduce the infarct size and the levels of LDH and CK after 4 h reperfusion (all P<0.05). EP could also significantly inhibit the increase of the MDA level, the decrease of the SOD level (both P<0.05). Meanwhile, EP could significantly inhibit the expression of HMGB1 induced by I/R. The present study suggested that ethyl pyruvate could attenuate myocardial I/R injury by inhibiting HMGB1 expression.