The effect of limb ischemic preconditioning (LIP) on ischemia-reperfused myocardium was examined in the urethane-anesthetized rats to determine whether LIP produces cardioprotection and to observe the roles of adenosine and neural reflex in this effect. The area at risk (AR) and infarct area (IA) were determined using Evans blue and nitro-blue tetrazolium staining respectively. Infarct size (IS) was defined as 100xIA/AR (%). The results obtained are as follows: (1) During 30 min myocardial ischemia and subsequent 120 min reperfusion, the myocardial infarct size occupied 51.48+/-0.82% of the area at risk. (2) LIP significantly reduced the myocardial infarct size to 35.14+/-0.88% (p<0.01), indicating the cardioprotective effect of such an intervention. (3) Femoral nerve section (FNS) completely abolished the cardioprotection afforded by LIP. (4) Intrafemoral artery injection of adenosine (10 nmol/kg) produced a similar effect to that of LIP, reducing the myocardial infarct size to 37.28+/-1.68%, while intrafemoral vein injection of the same dose of adenosine showed no effect. (5) Pretreatment with a selective adenosine A(1) receptor antagonist 8-cyclopentyl-1,diproylxanthine (DPCPX) (32 nmol/kg) partially abolished the cardioprotection of LIP on myocardium. Taken together, it is concluded that LIP reduces infarct size following myocardial ischemia-reperfusion, and that the locally released adenosine and thereby the activated relevant neural pathway play an important role in the cardioprotection provided by LIP.