While the role of cytokines in mediating injury during hind limb skeletal muscle ischemia followed by reperfusion has recently been described, the role of cytokines in myocardial infarction and ischemia/reperfusion have remained relatively unexplored. We hypothesize that cytokines play an important role in the regulation of postischemic myocardial inflammation. This study reports the temporal sequence of proinflammatory cytokine gene expression in postischemic/reperfused myocardium and localizes interleukin-1 beta (IL-1 beta) and tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha)-protein by immunostaining. Rats were subjected to either permanent left anterior descending (LAD) occlusion or to 35 minutes of LAD occlusion followed by reperfusion and sacrificed up to 7 days later. Rat-specific oligonucleotide probes were used to semiquantitatively assess the relative expression of mRNA for TNF-alpha, IL-1 beta, IL-2, IL-6, interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma), and transforming growth factor-beta 1 (TGF-beta 1) utilizing the reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction amplification technique. Increased cardiac mRNA levels for all cytokines except IL-6 and IFN-gamma were measurable within 15 to 30 minutes of LAD occlusion and increased levels were generally sustained for 3 hours. During early reperfusion, mRNA levels for IL-6 and TGF-beta 1 were significantly reduced compared with permanent LAD occlusion. In both groups, cytokine mRNA levels all returned to baseline levels at 24 hours, while IL-1 beta, TNF-alpha, and TGF-beta 1 mRNA levels again rose significantly at 7 days only in animals with permanent LAD occlusion. Immunostaining for IL-1 beta and TNF-alpha protein revealed two patterns of reactivity: 1) microvascular staining for both IL-1 beta and TNF-alpha protein only in postischemic reperfused myocardium in early post-reperfusion time points; and 2) staining of infiltrating macrophages in healing infarct zones which was most prominent at 7 days after permanent LAD occlusion. These results provide evidence for local expression of cytokine mRNA in postischemic myocardium and suggest that regulation of local cytokine release is altered during the postischemic period.