Ischemia-reperfusion induces reactive oxygen species (ROS) formation, and ROS lead to cardiac dysfunction, in part, via the activation of the nuclear poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP, called also PARS and ADP-RT). ROS and peroxynitrite induce single-strand DNA break formation and PARP activation, resulting in NAD(+) and ATP depletion, which can lead to cell death. Although protection of cardiac muscle by PARP inhibitors can be explained by their attenuating effect on NAD(+) and ATP depletion, there are data indicating that PARP inhibitors also protect mitochondria from oxidant-induced injury. Studying cardiac energy metabolism in Langendorff heart perfusion system by (31)P NMR, we found that PARP inhibitors (3-aminobenzamide, nicotinamide, BGP-15, and 4-hydroxyquinazoline) improved the recovery of high-energy phosphates (ATP, creatine phosphate) and accelerated the reutilization of inorganic phosphate formed during the ischemic period, showing that PARP inhibitors facilitate the faster and more complete recovery of the energy production. Furthermore, PARP inhibitors significantly decrease the ischemia-reperfusion-induced increase of lipid peroxidation, protein oxidation, single-strand DNA breaks, and the inactivation of respiratory complexes, which indicate a decreased mitochondrial ROS production in the reperfusion period. Surprisingly, PARP inhibitors, but not the chemically similar 3-aminobenzoic acid, prevented the H(2)O(2)-induced inactivation of cytochrome oxidase in isolated heart mitochondria, suggesting the presence of an additional mitochondrial target for PARP inhibitors. Therefore, PARP inhibitors, in addition to their important primary effect of decreasing the activity of nuclear PARP and decreasing NAD(+) and ATP consumption, reduce ischemia-reperfusion-induced endogenous ROS production and protect the respiratory complexes from ROS induced inactivation, providing an additional mechanism by which they can protect heart from oxidative damages.