The effects of streptozotocin-induced diabetes on myocardial substrate oxidation and contractile function were investigated using 13C nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy. To determine the consequences of diabetes on glucose oxidation, hearts were perfused with [1-13C]glucose (11 mM) alone as well as in the presence of insulin (to stimulate glucose transport) and dichloroacetate (to stimulate pyruvate dehydrogenase). The contribution of glucose to the tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle was significantly decreased in hearts from diabetic animals compared with controls, with glucose alone and with insulin; however, the addition of dichloroacetate significantly increased the contribution of glucose to the TCA cycle. Contractile function in hearts from diabetic animals was significantly depressed with glucose as the sole substrate, regardless of the presence of insulin or dichloroacetate (P < 0.0005). To determine whether diabetes had any direct effects on beta-oxidation and the TCA cycle, hearts were perfused with glucose (11 mM) plus [6-13C]hexanoate (0.5 mM) as substrates. In control hearts, with glucose plus hexanoate as substrates, hexanoate contributed 98.9 +/- 2% of the substrate entering the TCA cycle; this was significantly decreased to 90.7 +/- 0.6% in the diabetic group (P < 0.02). The addition of hexanoate to the perfusate resulted in a significant increase in peak systolic pressure in the diabetic group (P < 0.001) such that contractile function was indistinguishable from controls.