In the course of cardiac transplantation, donor hearts undergo a four- step sequence of events (arrest, cold storage, global ischemia during implantation, and reperfusion) during which myocardial damage can occur. We tested the hypothesis that the functional recovery of these hearts could be improved by exposure to two interdependently formulated preservation solutions throughout this four-step sequence. Solution I was used as a perfusion and storage medium during the first three steps, and solution II served as a modified reperfusate. The two solutions share the following principles of formulation: prevention of cell swelling (high concentrations of mannitol, a myocardium-specific impermeant) calcium overload (ionic manipulations), and oxidative damage (reduced glutathione) and enhancement of anaerobic energy production (glutamate). The two solutions differ with respect to the calcium content and buffering capacity. One hundred rat hearts perfused with isolated isovolumic buffer were subjected to cardioplegic arrest; cold (2° C) storage for 5 hours, global ischemia at 15° C for 1 hour, and normothermic reperfusion for 1 additional hour. In a first series of experiments (70 hearts), our kit of solutions was compared with six clinical preservation regimens that involved cardiac arrest with St. Thomas' Hospital or University of Wisconsin solutions followed by storage of the hearts in saline, Euro-Collins, St. Thomas' Hospital, or University of Wisconsin solutions. In a second series of experiments (30 hearts), the effects of the kit were more specifically investigated in relation to two types of additive-oncotic agents (dextran) and thiol-based antioxidants (reduced glutathione and N-acetyl-L-cysteine). According to comparisons of maximal rate of ventricular pressure increase and left ventricular compliance after reperfusion, the best myocardial protection was afforded by our kit of solutions. The addition of dextran during storage did not provide additional protection. Conversely, the omission of reduced glutathione was clearly detrimental; the replacement of reduced glutathione with N-acetyl-L-cysteine failed to improve recovery beyond that provided by antioxidant-free solutions, thereby suggesting the importance, in this model, of an anti-free radical compound that, like reduced glutathione, is operative extracellularly. We conclude that the preservation of heart transplants can be improved with the sequential use of two closely interrelated solutions, the formulations of which integrate the basic principles of organ preservation with those of myocardium-specific metabolism.