This study was designed to clarify discrepancies concerning the effects of droperidol on cardiac repolarization. Myocardial electrical activity was recorded by using microelectrode technique in rabbit Purkinje fibers and guinea pig ventricular muscle. In Purkinje fibers stimulated at 60 pulses/min, low concentrations (0.01-0.3 microM) of droperidol increased in a dose-dependent fashion action potential duration (APD) without altering the other parameters. At 1 and 3 microM, droperidol led to the reversal of the prolonging effect. The highest concentrations used (10 and 30 microM), produced shortening in APD at 50% repolarization concomitantly with a significant decrease in Vmax, action potential amplitude and resting membrane potential. Inexcitability occurred in 4 of 15 preparations exposed to 30 microM. In 8 of 15 Purkinje fibers, the prolonging effect induced by low concentrations was so important that APD exceeded the 1000-msec period of basal stimulation and early afterdepolarizations (EADs) and triggered activity developed. In guinea pig ventricular muscle, these effects were notably less pronounced. Prolongation of action potential showed a reverse use-dependence (i.e., much greater at the lowest stimulation frequencies), whereas Vmax depression was use-dependent. Decreasing extracellular K concentration from 4.0 to 2.7 mM enhanced the incidence of EADs in Purkinje fibers, whereas elevating the K concentration from 2.7 to 5.4 mM abolished them completely and shortened drastically APD. EADs were also eliminated by increasing magnesium concentration from 1 to 5 mM. Addition of isoproterenol favored EADs, whereas these were suppressed at plateau level by exposure to 0.3 microM nifedipine. The results indicate that in rabbit Purkinje fibers, droperidol exerts a dual effect on repolarization, prolongation with low concentrations with development of EADs and subsequent triggered activity. These abnormalities were suppressed at high concentrations concomitantly with a marked depression of other characteristics. These observations suggest multiple ionic channel activities and further studies are required to precise the underlying mechanisms at channel level.