During restoration of blood flow of the ischemic heart induced by coronary occlusion, free radicals cause lipid peroxidation with myocardial injury. Lipid peroxidation end-products, such as malondialdehyde (MDA), have been used to assess oxygen free radical-mediated injury of the ischemic-reperfused (I/R) myocardium in rats. This experimental study assessed the preventive effect of caffeic acid phenthyl ester (CAPE), antioxidant, on I/R-induced lipid peroxidation in the rat heart. We are also interested in the role of CAPE on glutathione (GSH) levels, an antioxidant whose levels are influenced by oxidative stress. I/R leads to the depletion of GSH which is the major intracellular nonprotein sulphydryl and plays an important role in the maintenance of cellular proteins and lipid in their functional state and acts primarily to protect these important structures against the threat of oxidation. In addition, we also examined morphologic changes in the heart by using light microscopy. The left coronary artery was occluded for 30 min and then reperfused for 120 min more before the experiment was terminated. CAPE (50 mu M kg(-1)) was administered 10 min prior to ischemia and during occlusion by infusion. At the end of the reperfusion period, rats were sacrificed, and the heart was quickly removed for biochemical determination and histopathological analysis. I/R was accompanied by a significant increase in MDA production and decrease in GSH content in the rat heart. Administration of CAPE reduced MDA production and prevented depletion of GSH content. These beneficial changes in these biochemical parameters were also associated with parallel changes in histopathological appearance. These findings imply that I/R plays a causal role in heart injury due to overproduction of oxygen radicals or insufficient antioxidant and CAPE exert cardioprotective effects probably by the radical scavenging and antioxidant activities.