Shock, a common and frequently fatal manifestation of gas gangrene caused by Clostridium perfringens, is probably mediated by extracellular toxins. Previous studies implicating alpha-toxin as the major lethal factor were frequently done with preparations contaminated with a second lethal factor, theta-toxin. We purified alpha- and theta-toxins from C. perfringens and demonstrated that both were lethal to mice. We investigated the effects of these purified toxins on cardiovascular function in intact rabbits; both toxins caused profound hypotension and bradycardia within 40 min. Reduced cardiac output preceded the development of hypotension and bradycardia. Purified alpha-toxin produced a dose-dependent reduction in myocardial function in isolated rabbit atrial preparations. Purified theta-toxin did not directly inhibit myocardial function. Shock induced by alpha-toxin may be partly mediated by direct depression of myocardial function. theta-Toxin reduced cardiac output in intact animals but had no direct effects on isolated heart preparations at concentrations that induced shock in intact animals. These data suggest that theta-toxin-induced shock could be mediated by an endogenous myocardial depressant factor.