Experiments were performed in the dog to examine the effects of neutropenia on ultimate infarct size resulting from short (90 minutes) or prolonged (4 hours) circumflex coronary artery occlusion. Sheep antiserum to canine neutrophils was used to produce neutropenia. Control animals received nonimmune serum. Neutrophil infiltration into myocardial infarcts was examined using histopathologic techniques and a semiquantitative scoring system. In 90-minute occlusions with 24-hour reperfusion, neutropenia was associated with the development of significantly smaller infarcts: normopenic group, 43.2% +/- 3.3% (n = 7) vs. neutropenic group, 26.6% +/- 3.7% (n = 10) of the area at risk, means +/- SEM. However, in 4-hour occlusion with 6-hour reperfusion experiments, the tendency of neutrophil depletion to reduce infarct size did not reach statistical significance (46.4% +/- 7.2% vs. 31.5% +/- 6.0% of the area at risk, normopenic vs. neutropenic) despite differences in neutrophil infiltration into the reperfused region. The observed differences in ultimate infarct size could not be attributed to differences in myocardial oxygen consumption. The results suggest that a significant amount of myocardial infarction induced by a limited duration of coronary artery occlusion followed by reperfusion is neutrophil dependent and appears to be less important in determining the fate of myocardium subjected to more prolonged periods of ischemia followed by reperfusion.