The effect of verapamil, a drug that reduces the concentration of intracellular calcium, on atherogenesis was evaluated in rabbits fed a cholesterol-rich diet for 10 weeks. Ten rabbits received oral verapamil, 8 mg/kg daily; eight received the same oral dose and 0.5 mg/kg daily subcutaneously; nine received oral lanthanum, 35 mg/kg daily, and nine were controls. Over the 10 week period, all groups had average serum cholesterol levels greater than 1,500 mg/dl (normal = 90 +/- 63 mg/dl). At the end of the experiment, the aortas were removed, opened and stained for lipid with Sudan IV. The extent of atherosclerosis was determined by planimetry. The group receiving oral and parenteral verapamil had significantly less atherosclerosis (25 +/- 26% of total intimal area; mean +/- standard deviation), as compared with the controls (73 +/- 24%). Reduction of atherosclerosis with oral verapamil (51 +/- 22%) and lanthanum (59 +/- 31) was not statistically significant. Indexes of contractility in isolated right ventricular papillary muscles (developed tension at maximal length [Lmax] and maximal velocity of shortening [Vmax]) were reduced in the group treated with oral and parenteral verapamil, but not in the others. It is concluded that verapamil suppresses the development of atherosclerosis in rabbits fed a cholesterol-rich diet.