Brief ischemic episodes confer marked protection against myocardial stunning 1-3 d later (late preconditioning [PC] against stunning). The mechanism of this powerful protective effect is poorly understood. Although protein kinase C (PKC) has been implicated in PC against infarction, it is unknown whether it triggers late PC against stunning. In addition, the entire PKC hypothesis of ischemic PC remains controversial, possibly because the effects of PKC inhibitors on PC protection have not been correlated with their effects on PKC activity and/or translocation in vivo. Thus, conscious rabbits underwent a sequence of six 4-min coronary occlusion (O)/4-min reperfusion (R) cycles for three consecutive days (days 1, 2, and 3). In the control group (group I, n = 7), the recovery of systolic wall thickening after the six O/R cycles was markedly improved on days 2 and 3 compared with day 1, indicating the development of late PC against stunning. Administration of the PKC inhibitor chelerythrine at a dose of 5 mg/kg before the first O on day 1 (group II, n = 10) abrogated the late PC effect against stunning, whereas a 10-fold lower dose (0.5 mg/kg; group III, n = 7) did not. Administration of 5 mg/kg of chelerythrine 10 min after the sixth reperfusion on day 1 (group IV, n = 6) failed to block late PC against stunning. When rabbits were given 5 mg/kg of chelerythrine in the absence of O/R (group V, n = 5), the severity of myocardial stunning 24 h later was not modified. Pretreatment with phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate (4 microg/kg) on day 1 without ischemia (group VI, n = 11) induced late PC against stunning on day 2 and the magnitude of this effect was equivalent to that observed after ischemic PC. In vehicle-treated rabbits (group VIII, n = 5), the six O/R cycles caused translocation of PKC isoforms epsilon and eta from the cytosolic to the particulate fraction without significant changes in total PKC activity, in the subcellular distribution of total PKC activity, or in the subcellular distribution of the alpha, beta1, beta2, gamma, delta, zeta, iota, lambda, and mu isoforms. The higher dose of chelerythrine (5 mg/kg; group X, n = 5) prevented the translocation of both PKC epsilon and eta induced by ischemic PC, whereas the lower dose (0.5 mg/kg; group XI, n = 5) prevented the translocation of PKC eta but not that of epsilon, indicating that the activation of epsilon is necessary for late PC to occur whereas that of eta is not. To our knowledge, this is the first demonstration that a PKC inhibitor actually prevents the translocation of PKC induced by ischemic PC in vivo, and that this inhibition of PKC translocation results in loss of PC protection. Taken together, the results demonstrate that the mechanism of late PC against myocardial stunning in conscious rabbits involves a PKC-mediated signaling pathway, and implicate epsilon as the specific PKC isoform responsible for the development of this cardioprotective phenomenon.