The authors studied the relationship between cardiac cytokine release and pump function and whether low-dose application of sodium nitroprusside (SNP) improves cardiac performance during coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) creation. Cardiac reperfusion and application of nitric oxide have an influence on cytokine release. However, the functional consequences are unclear. Patients with CABGs (n = 30) with severely compromised left ventricular ejection fraction (<40%) were treated with either SNP (0.5 μg/kg/min) or placebo for the first 60 minutes of reperfusion after cardiac arrest. Interleukin (IL)-6, IL-8, and tumor necrosis factor (TNF)–α were determined in blood samples from the radial artery and coronary sinus during reperfusion (5, 35, and 75 minutes). Hemodynamic measurements were performed before and after cardiopulmonary bypass and at the end of surgery. In all patients, the cardiac index at the end of surgery correlated negatively with levels of TNF-α at 5 minutes (r = 0.398; P < 0.05), IL-8 at 35 minutes (r = 0.394; P < 0.05), and IL-6 at 75 minutes of reperfusion (r = 0.421; P < 0.025). Sodium nitroprusside improved the cardiac index immediately after reperfusion (4.4 L/min/m2 ± 0.3 vs. 3.7 L/min/m2 ± 0.1; P = 0.014) and at the end of surgery (3.8 L/min/m2 ± 0.3 vs. 3.0 L/min/m2 ± 0.2; P = 0.023). The negative correlation between cardiac index and transcardiac cytokines suggests that reducing cardiac inflammatory reaction improves postischemic cardiac function. This was achieved by treating CABG patients with the nitric oxide donor SNP at a dosage without vasodilatory action.