Evidence indicates that acute cardiac graft rejection is associated with cardiomyocyte apoptosis. Mitochondrial permeability transition (MPT) induces apoptotic cell death. We sought to determine whether MPT might play a role in cardiomyocyte apoptosis in the rat model of heterotopic cardiac transplantation. Syngenic and allogenic transplantations were performed, and both native and grafted hearts were harvested 3 or 5 d after transplantation for detection of acute rejection, assessment of Ca2+-induced MPT, and myocardial apoptosis by TUNEL staining and caspase 3 activity. Allogenic grafts developed severe acute rejection at day 5 with concomitant cardiomyocyte apoptosis (apoptotic index: 7.1 ± 1.0% vs. 1.0 ± 0.2% in syngenic hearts, and caspase 3 activity: 38 ± 25 vs. 5 ± 9 nmol/mg, in allogenic vs. syngenic grafts, respectively). At day 5, Ca2+-induced MPT was dramatically altered in allogenic when compared with syngenic grafts (mean Ca2+ overload averaged 0 ± 20 vs. 280 ± 30 μM in allogenic and syngenic grafts, respectively). NIM811, a nonimmunosuppressive derivative of cyclosporin A (CsA), that specifically inhibits the MPT pore, did not alter acute rejection, but significantly delayed Ca2+-induced MPT pore opening, attenuated caspase 3 activity and cardiomyocyte apoptosis in allogenic grafts. This suggests that mitochondrial permeability transition pore opening may play an important role in cardiomyocyte apoptosis associated with acute cardiac graft rejection.