In the rabbit myocardium, ischemia (produced by ligation of the left circumflex coronary artery) is associated with a reduction in antioxidant capacity. This is reflected by an increased glutathione depletion and production of thiobarbituric acid reactive substances following in vitro oxidative challenge with t-butylhydroperoxide. This effect is greatly intensified by reperfusion following periods of ischemia longer than 20 mins, thereby paralleling the onset of irreversible injury. Chronic allopurinol pretreatment (1 mg/mL in drinking water or approximately 75 mg/kg/day for seven days prior to ligation) provides significant protection of the ischemic/reperfused myocardium to t-butylhydroperoxide induced glutathione depletion and production of thiobarbituric acid reactive substances. This protection was not associated with any significant alterations in levels of tissue ATP or in the activities of the myocardial antioxidant enzymes catalase, copper,zinc-superoxide dismutase or glutathione peroxidase, suggesting that allopurinol may exert its effects by direct radical scavenging or by some other mechanism unrelated to xanthine oxidase inhibition.