Stretch of excised myocardial tissue causes electrophysiological and potentially arrhythmogenic changes in transmembrane action potentials but corresponding data of the intact mammalian heart are lacking. The effects of increases in ventricular volume and pressure on epicardial monophasic action potentials were therefore investigated in isolated, cross circulated and in situ canine hearts. In seven isolated hearts, increases in ventricular volume and pressure resulted in (1) a linearly related decrease in action potential amplitude (r = 0.988; slope = 0.41% amplitude.ml-1; volume intercept = 17.6 ml), mainly due to a decrease in maximum diastolic potential; (2) a decrease in action potential plateau duration (at 20% repolarisation) by 19 (SD 8)%; and (3) appearance of early afterdepolarizations, reaching up to 18% of total action potential amplitude. Afterdepolarizations occurred only when ventricular outflow was obstructed at end diastole but not at end systole. In eight in situ hearts, increase in left intraventricular pressure produced by transient occlusions of the ascending aorta was also accompanied by decrease in maximum diastolic potential and action potential plateau duration, and by appearance of early afterdepolarizations. In both isolated and in situ intact ventricles, the loading induced electrophysiological changes were associated with occurrence of ectopic ventricular beats. These data show that mechanical overload produces significant electrophysiological changes in the intact canine ventricle which may lead to arrhythmia.