The heat shock response is a conserved response to cell injury. We sought to determine if ischemia alone versus events at reperfusion stimulated expression of the major heat shock protein (hsp-72) in a clinically relevant model of global myocardial ischemia in pigs. Pigs were placed on nonpulsatile cardiopulmonary bypass. Serial transmural cardiac biopsies were taken at baseline following 20 min of normothermic global ischemia (induced by crossclamping the aorta) and at 20, 40, and 60 min of reperfusion. Test animals received a bolus and subsequent aortic root infusion of superoxide dismutase (total 7,500 U/kg) beginning just prior to reperfusion. Hsp-72 mRNA abundance was estimated from Northern blots. We found that hsp-72 mRNA was not induced following 20 min of ischemia but accumulated to high levels within 20 min of reperfusion. Intravascular administration of superoxide dismutase at reperfusion eliminated hsp-72 mRNA induction. We conclude that in the postischemic myocardium, hsp-72 gene expression is dependent on superoxide anion generation at reperfusion. In this setting, hsp-72 gene expression may reflect a specific response to oxidative injury rather than a more general response to metabolic stress associated with ischemia.