Hemodynamic and 31P-NMR spectroscopic studies were performed on intact, perfused working rat hearts exposed to low (0.3 mM) extracellular Mg ([Mg2+]o). Low [Mg2+]o perfusion resulted in rapid and significant falls in cardiac output, coronary flow, stroke volume, developed pressure and the rate-pressure product. Concomitant with this O2 consumption decrease and lactate production increased. Hearts perfused with 0.3 mM, instead of 1.2 mM [Mg2+]o exhibited significant reductions in [ATP], [PCr], intracellular free Mg ([Mg2+]i) and pHi; a marked rise in intracellular Pi corresponding to a precipitous fall in the cytosolic phosphorylation potential was seen. Reintroduction of 1.2 mM [Mg2+]o failed to reestablish either normal hemodynamics, or high-energy phosphates and intracellular Pi, suggesting irreversible myocyte injury. These observations are consistent with the tenet that low [Mg2+]o can result in marked reduction in oxygen and substrate delivery to the cardiac myocytes, probably as a result of coronary vasoconstriction.