Alterations in substrate selection and utilisation are characteristics of heart failure of different etiologies and these changes may be involved in the development of contractile dysfunction. Regulation of pyruvate dehydrogenase (PDH) is crucial in determining the relative contribution of glucose oxidation to energy production; however, the role of PDH in the development of heart failure has not been clarified. In this study, we present a reliable and simple method for assaying both the active and total forms of PDH (PDHa and PDHt respectively) in cardiac tissue, and have compared the effects of pressure overload hypertrophy and diabetes on PDH activity. PDHa and PDHt were measured in extracts of hypertrophied hearts after 5 weeks of pressure overload or in hearts after 7 weeks following induction of diabetes. There was no significant change in PDHt in the hypertrophied group, but the fraction of PDH in the active form significantly decreased from 61 ± 1% in controls to 36 ± 1% (P < 0.05). Following diabetes, there was a decrease in the ratio of PDHa:PDHt from 60 ± 3% to 11 ± 1% (P < 0.0001) and PDHt activity [6.2 ± 0.9 to 2.7 ± 0.4 μmol/min/g wet weight (P < 0.02)]. This study reports for the first time that (i) concomitant with the development of compensated hypertrophy, there is a decrease in the fraction of PDH in the active form; and (ii) in the diabetic heart, there is marked decrease in total PDH activity in addition to a decrease in the fraction of PDH in the active form. These results indicate that myocardial substrate delivery to the mitochondria may be impaired in both hypertrophy and diabetes, which may lead to the energy depleted state observed in heart failure.