The objective of this study was to determine whether a defect in mitochondrial respiratory function accompanies the development of diabetic cardiomyopathy. The hypothesis tested in this study is that a decrease in Ca2+ uptake into mitochondria may prevent the stimulation of Ca(2+)-sensitive matrix dehydrogenases and the rate of ATP synthesis. Streptozotocin (55 mg/kg)-induced diabetic rats were used as a model of insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus. Hearts from 4-wk diabetic rats had basal heart rates and rates of contraction and relaxation similar to control. Isoproterenol caused a similar increase in the rate of contraction in diabetic and control hearts, whereas the peak rate of relaxation was reduced in diabetic hearts. Mitochondrial Ca2+ uptake was reduced in mitochondria from diabetic hearts after 2 wk of diabetes. Na(+)-induced Ca2+ release was unchanged. State 3 respiration rate was depressed in mitochondria from diabetic rats only when the respiration was supported by the substrate of a Ca(2+)-regulated matrix enzyme. The pyruvate dehydrogenase activity was reduced in diabetic mitochondria compared with that of control. It was concluded that mitochondria from diabetic hearts had a decreased capacity to upregulate ATP synthesis via stimulation of Ca(2+)-sensitive matrix dehydrogenases. The impairment in the augmentation of ATP synthesis rate accompanies a decreased rate of relaxation during increased work load.