Poly (ADP-ribose) synthetase (PARS) is a nuclear enzyme activated by strand breaks in DNA which are caused by reactive oxygen species (ROS). Inhibitors of PARS activity reduce the degree of reperfusion injury of the heart in vivo and in vitro. Here we investigate the role of PARS in the cell death of human cardiac myoblasts caused by hydrogen peroxide. Exposure of human cardiac myoblasts to hydrogen peroxide caused a time- and concentration-dependent reduction in mitochondrial respiration (cell injury), an increase in cell death (LDH release), as well as an increase in PARS activity. The PARS inhibitors 3-aminobenzamide (3 mM), 1,5-dehydroxyisoquinoline (300 microM) or nicotinamide (3 mM) attenuated the cell injury and death as well as the increase in PARS activity caused by hydrogen peroxide (3 mM; 4 h for cell injury/death, 60 min for PARS activity) in human cardiac myoblasts. In contrast, the inactive analogues 3-aminobenzoic acid (3 mM) or nicotinic acid (3 mM) were without effect. The iron chelator deferoxamine (1-10 mM) caused a concentration-dependent reduction in the cell injury and death caused by hydrogen peroxide in these human cardiac myoblasts. Thus, the cell injury/death caused by hydrogen peroxide in human cardiac myoblasts is secondary to the formation of hydroxyl radicals and due to an increase in PARS activity. We therefore propose that activation of PARS contributes to the cell injury/cell death associated with oxidant stress in the heart.