The rate of oxygen consumption of isolated, Langendorff-circulated, saline-perfused hearts of guinea pigs, rats, and rabbits was measured using the classical Fick Principle method. The heart was suspended in a glass chamber the oxygen partial pressure, PO2, of which could be varied. The measured rate of oxygen consumption was found to vary inversely with the ambient (heart chamber) PO2. This result prevailed whether the chamber was filled with air, saline, or oil, and whether the pericardium was present or the heart was wrapped in Saran. The effect varied inversely with heart size both within and across species. It is concluded that the epicardial surface is permeable to oxygen which will diffuse either into or out of the heart as the PO2 gradient dictates. In either case the classically measured rate of oxygen consumption will be in error. The error can be large in studies of cardiac basal metabolism. A simple model is developed to describe the observed rate of oxygen consumption as classically measured. The measured rate is partitioned into two components: the true rate of oxygen consumption of the heart, and the rate of loss of oxygen by diffusive exchange across the epicardial surface. The latter component is proportional to the gradient of oxygen partial pressure from myocardium to environment and to the diffusive oxygen conductance of myocardial tissue. Application of the model allows the true rate of oxygen consumption of the heart to be recovered from measured values which may be considerably in error.

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