Although cardiac function is depressed during endotoxic shock, it remains controversial whether the ventricular contractility and structure are altered during sepsis. To resolve this issue, rats were subjected to polymicrobial sepsis by cecal ligation and puncture (CLP). At 2, 5, and 10 h after CLP (i.e., the early, hyperdynamic stage of sepsis) or 20 h after CLP (the late, hypodynamic stage of sepsis, based on the depressed tissue perfusion), in vivo left ventricular contractility parameters such as maximal rate of the left ventricular pressure increase (+dP/dtmax) and decrease (-dP/dtmax), maximal rate of "pressure-normalized" change in ventricular pressure (dP/dtmax/P), and ventricular peak systemic pressure were determined using a Digi-Med® Heart Performance Analyzer™. In additional groups of animals, ultrastructure of the cardiac muscle in the left ventricle was examined at 5, 10, or 20 h after CLP, using a transmission electron microscope. The results indicate that +dP/dtmax and dP/dtmax/P increased significantly at 2-10 h after CLP. The values of -dP/dtmax and ventricular peak systemic pressure increased significantly at 2 and 5 h after the onset of sepsis, respectively. These in vivo ventricular contractility parameters, however, were not significantly different from shams at 20 h after CLP. Ultrastructural examination showed that enlarged T-tubules were prominent during the hyperdynamic stage of sepsis, which was correlated with the increased cardiac contractility. Although focal and moderate hypertrophy as well as expanded intermyocyte junctions could be observed occasionally, myocardial cells did not appear to be compromised at 20 h after CLP. Thus, the transition from the hyperdynamic to hypodynamic circulation during sepsis does not appear to be due to any depression in myocardial function because cardiac contractility and structure are not compromised even during the late, hypodynamic stage of sepsis. However, further investigation is required to determine whether cardiac function is depressed at the terminal stage of polymicrobial sepsis.