The effect of pH of the reperfusion buffer on postischemic changes in tissue Ca and Na was examined in isolated Langendorff-perfused Sprague-Dawley rat hearts. Reperfusion began after 15-, 25-, or 60-min ischemia at 37 degrees C. After 60-min ischemia, reperfusion at pH 6.4 or 6.6 attenuated the reperfusion-induced Ca gain so long as the acidotic conditions were maintained (3.08 +/- 0.22, 1.37 +/- 0.41, and 16.96 +/- 1.18 mumol Ca gain/g dry wt for pH 6.4, 6.6, and 7.4, respectively after 15-min reperfusion). Conversely, reperfusion under alkalotic conditions (pH 7.9) after 60-min ischemia exacerbated the gain (27.45 +/- 4.75 and 8.92 +/- 1.53 mumol Ca gain/g dry wt during 5-min reperfusion at pH 7.9 and 7.4, respectively). Similar, but less pronounced Ca gains occurred during reperfusion after 15- or 25-min ischemia. Sodium content during reperfusion, but not during aerobic perfusion, was also found to be pH sensitive with acidosis causing a reduction and alkalosis an increase. These results could not be explained in terms of an effect of pH on recovery of high-energy phosphates, percentage "reflow" during reperfusion, or reperfusion-induced increases in tissue water or resting tension. The results are in agreement with the hypothesis that the "inhibitory" effect of acidosis on postischemic Ca overload could involve an effect of pH on the Na(+)-H+ exchanger and intracellular Ca storage.