Oxygen-derived free radicals play a critical role in atherogenesis and reperfusion injury. The present experiment evaluated the effects of carvedilol, a new beta adrenoreceptor blocker with potent free radical-scavenging activity, on myocardial ischemia and reperfusion injury in a hypercholesterolemic rabbit model. New Zealand rabbits were fed a normal diet, a high-cholesterol diet, or a high-cholesterol diet supplemented with 1200 ppm carvedilol or propranolol. Eight weeks later, the rabbits were subjected to 60 min of myocardial ischemia followed by 60 min of reperfusion. The nontreated cholesterol-fed animals experienced greater cardiac damage after ischemia and reperfusion than rabbits fed a normal diet (necrosis 51% +/- 4% vs. 28% +/- 3% in the normal-diet group, P < .01). In addition, nontreated cholesterol-fed rabbits showed a significantly decreased vasorelaxant response to ACh in U-46619-precontracted aortic rings (56% +/- 5% vs 90% +/- 3% in the control group, P < .001). Treatment with propranolol neither preserved endothelial function after cholesterol feeding nor reduced neutrophil accumulation in ischemic-reperfused myocardial tissue. Propranolol treatment did significantly decrease HR, pressure-rate index and infarct size (necrosis 33% +/- 4%). Despite their having essentially identical effects on HR and pressure-rate index, carvedilol exerted more profound cardiac protective effects than propranolol (necrosis 19% +/- 3%). Moreover, carvedilol treatment significantly preserved aortic endothelial function and markedly reduced neutrophil accumulation in ischemic-reperfused myocardial tissue. These results indicate that in addition to its beta blocking activity, the antioxidant and endothelial protective activities of carvedilol contributed significantly to its cardiac protective effects after ischemia and reperfusion.