BACKGROUND: This manuscript describes two novel techniques that may be useful for comparing methods to reperfuse the heart during cardiac operations. These techniques are based on measurements of intra-myocyte ion content and the analysis of reperfusion arrhythmias. METHODS: Myocyte ion content was measured in normal porcine hearts before and after ischemia (cardioplegic arrest, CP arrest) using atomic absorption spectroscopy. A cobalt-EDTA complex served as the extra-cellular marker. Cobalt-EDTA was infused into the aorta together with blood or cardioplegia (CP) solution. Myocardial biopsies were taken prior to CP arrest and upon successful defibrillation 5 min after initiating reperfusion. Ventricular fibrillation (VF) was recorded prior to ischemia, and then during reperfusion. VF wavefront (WF) morphology and propagation patterns were analyzed using computer algorithms. Electrophysiologic variables for measuring VF included the multiplicity index (a descriptor of VF organization), the number of WFs detected (nwaves/s) and the mean peak first derivative of electrogram voltage with respect to time (mp d V/dt). RESULTS: Intra-cellular sodium content increased, while intra-cellular magnesium content decreased between control and reperfusion measurements (p < 0.05). Electrophysiologic recovery was characterized by increasingly rapid depolarization (i.e. more negative mp d V/dt) and an increasing nwaves/s during the first minute of post-CP reperfusion. CONCLUSIONS: Atomic absorption spectroscopy and computer-based analysis of reperfusion VF successfully measured metabolic and electrophysiologic events that occurred during controlled reperfusion. These methods may be useful for comparing controlled reperfusion techniques.