The effect of diltiazem (d-cis-diltiazem) on the ischemic myocardium was compared with that of l-cis-diltiazem, an optical isomer having less potent calcium channel-blocking action, in the isolated, perfused working rat heart. Ischemia decreased mechanical function and tissue levels of ATP and creatine phosphate, and increased tissue levels of nonesterified fatty acids (NEFA), AMP and lactate. Reperfusion did not restore mechanical function, but restored incompletely the levels of metabolites (except NEFA) that had been altered by ischemia. The ischemia-induced changes in NEFA were prevented by d-cis-diltiazem completely and by l-cis-diltiazem incompletely. Other metabolic changes induced by ischemia were attenuated by d-cis-diltiazem but not by l-cis-diltiazem. In heart pretreated with d-cis- or l-cis-diltiazem, both the mechanical function and the levels of metabolites recovered during reperfusion, the degree of recovery with both drugs being similar. These results indicate that not only d-cis-diltiazem but also l-cis-diltiazem has an anti-ischemic action probably due to inhibition of the tissue NEFA accumulation. These results also suggest that the mechanism of the protective effect of d-cis-diltiazem on the ischemic myocardium is not entirely due to the calcium channel-blocking action. Treatment with low Ca2+ (1.0 mM CaCl2) also attenuated the ischemia-induced changes. The interval between reoxygenation and start of function in the reperfused heart that had been treated with low Ca2+ was significantly longer than that with d-cis- or l-cis-diltiazem. The effect of these isomers to shorten this interval may contribute to their common anti-ischemic action.