The value of prophylactic monoclonal or polyclonal antibody therapy early after cardiac transplantation is controversial. Between Jan. 1, 1987, and July 1, 1988, 32 consecutive patients underwent cardiac transplantation (cyclosporine, azathioprine, and prednisone maintenance therapy) with either early prophylactic rabbit antithymocyte globulin (n = 17) or monoclonal OKT3 (Ortho Diagnostic Systems, Inc., Raritan, N.J.) (10 days) (n = 15). Follow-up was through Sept. 1, 1988, for morbid events and through Jan. 1, 1989, for survival. All patients (100%) survived the study period (follow-up of 6 to 24 months). The efficacy of rabbit antithymocyte globulin and OKT3 prophylaxis was similar regarding median time (days) to first rejection (16 versus 21 days, p = 0.5), number of rejection episodes during first 2 months (1.5 versus 1.3 days, p = 0.8), and freedom from rejection at 2 months (18% versus 27%, p = 0.8). Early infections were slightly less common in the rabbit antithymocyte globulin group than the OKT3 group (median time to first infection: 318 versus 250 days, p = 0.5; freedom from rejection at 2 months: 82% versus 64%, p = 0.21), although differences were likely due to chance. Cytomegalovirus syndrome was common, with one case of cytomegalovirus pneumonia. T-cell markers during OKT3 treatment did not predict subsequent rejection (within 2 weeks after OKT3) as assessed by mean T3-lymphocyte count during OKT3 use (p = 0.3) or T3-lymphocyte count during the last 3 days of OKT3 use (p = 0.4). Inferences: (1) Prophylactic rabbit antithymocyte globulin or OKT3 with triple-drug immunosuppression yields excellent intermediate survival after heart transplantation. (2) These protocols for rabbit antithymocyte globulin and OKT3 provide similar protection against early rejection with a relatively low risk of early infection. (3) T-cell markers do not predict early rejection after OKT3.