Both prolonged starvation and hyperthyroidism evoke stable increases in cardiac pyruvate dehydrogenase kinase (PDHK) activity. Pyruvate inhibits PDHK in rat heart mitochondria with activation of PDHC. The sensitivity of PDHK to inhibition by pyruvate declines after prolonged starvation. In the present study, pyruvate concentrations giving 50% active complex (PDHa) in mitochondria from fed, control and fed, hyperthyroid rats were 0.3 and 0.8 mM, respectively, compared with 1.0 and 2.8 mM, respectively in mitochondria from 24-h-starved and 48-h-starved rats. The results demonstrate that altered pyruvate sensitivity is not of necessity linked with altered PDHK activity. PDHK activities in mitochondria prepared from cardiac myocytes from fed rats were increased after culture for 24 h with dibutyryl cyclic AMP (50 microM) plus n-octanoate (1 mM), with a concomitant decline in sensitivity of PDHK to pyruvate inhibition, suggesting that changes in sensitivity of PDHK to pyruvate inhibition in vivo may be secondary to increased fatty acid supply and cyclic AMP concentrations.