Glutamic acid may protect the ischemic myocardium by increasing the flux through anaerobic pathways for ATP production. We tested this in isolated rabbit hearts that were treated with 0 or 2 mM glutamate. Hearts were stabilized for 30 min, subjected to ischemia for 30 min, and then reperfused for 30 min. Cardiac performance was defined by measuring peak left ventricular pressure (PLVDP) at the apex of a Starling curve and expressed as the %PLVDP attained during the preischemia period. Glutamate improved cardiac performance (%PLVDP, treated vs. untreated) after moderate ischemia (92 vs. 67), severe ischemia (79 vs. 65), and total ischemia (61 vs. 41). During severe ischemia, improved performance was associated with enhanced release (nmol X g wet wt -1 X min -1, treated vs. untreated) of alpha-ketoglutarate (2.3 vs. 1.3), succinate (21.7 vs. 12.3), and lactate (478 vs. 386). The ischemic myocardial content (nmol/mg myocardial protein, treated vs. untreated) of alpha-ketoglutarate (1.7 vs. 1.2) was increased by glutamate. The ischemic content of ATP (25.4 vs. 21.9) and succinate (15.7 vs. 12.1) showed a slight trend toward improvement under glutamate treatment. The study shows an association between improved postischemic cardiac performance and increased production of alpha-ketoglutarate and succinate during glutamate treatment.