Background. Opening of adenosine triphosphate-sensitive potassium channels might be one of the mechanisms by which preconditioning preserves the myocardium against ischemic damage. The present study was therefore designed to compare the protective efficacy of ischemic preconditioning with that of pharmacologic preconditioning involving the use of a potassium channel opener in a surgically relevant model of cold cardioplegic arrest. Methods. Thirty isolated isovolumic rat hearts were subjected to 2 hours of potassium arrest at an average myocardial temperature of 23°C, followed by 1 hour of reperfusion. Three groups (n = 10 per group) were studied: (1) control (no prearrest intervention); (2) ischemic preconditioning, achieved with 5 minutes of no-flow ischemia followed by 5 minutes of reperfusion before arrest; and (3) pharmacologic preconditioning, achieved with a 5-minute infusion of the potassium channel opener nicorandil (10 μmol/L) followed by 5 minutes of drug-free perfusion before arrest. Standard functional indices were measured at multiple times during reperfusion, at the end of which pressure-volume curves were constructed and compared with those obtained at baseline. Results. Both ischemically and pharmacologically preconditioned hearts recovered systolic and diastolic function to a significantly greater extent than the controls. There was no difference in the recovery patterns between the forms of preconditioning. However, analysis of the postischemic pressure-volume curves demonstrated that nicorandil-preconditioned hearts incurred the smallest losses of compliance throughout the ischemia- reperfusion sequence. Conclusions. The protective effects of a standard ischemic preconditioning challenge on functional recovery after an episode of moderately hypothermic cardioplegic arrest can be duplicated by pharmacologic opening of adenosine triphosphate-sensitive potassium channels. This finding may be of clinical relevance because of the availability of potassium channel openers, such as nicorandil, for human use.