OBJECTIVE:Intracellular Na rises rapidly during cardiac ischemia and this has been attributed to the combination of increased influx of Na via sodium-proton exchange and decreased activity of the Na/K ATPase. The aim of these studies was to investigate the effects of ischemia on Na/K ATPase function in Langendorff-perfused rat hearts. METHODS:Na/K ATPase activity was determined by measuring ouabain-sensitive phosphate generation from ATP by cardiac homogenates. RESULTS:Global ischemia (15 and 30 min) caused a substantial reduction in Na/K ATPase function despite high substrate availability in the assay. When sarcolemmal membranes were purified away from the cytosol a profound activation of the Na/K ATPase was revealed following ischemia, indicating that the inhibition was due to the cytosolic accumulation of an inhibitor of Na/K ATPase. The half-life of the inhibitor in cardiac homogenates was 10+/-3 min at room temperature. Perfusion with the antioxidant MPG (1 mmol/l) reduced the accumulation of this inhibitor, however MPG was without effect on Na/K ATPase function when added directly to the Na/K ATPase activity assay. While the inhibitor reduced the activity of cardiac and brain forms of the Na/K ATPase in bioassay experiments, no effect was observed on the renal and skeletal muscle forms of the enzyme. CONCLUSIONS:An unstable cardiac and brain-specific inhibitor of the Na/K ATPase whose production is linked to oxidant stress, accumulates intracellularly during ischemia. Intracellular Na is a primary determinant of electro-mechanical recovery on reperfusion, so inhibition of the Na/K ATPase by this compound may be crucial in determining recovery from ischemia.