Oxidative stress induced by hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) may contribute to the pathogenesis of ischemic-reperfusion injury in the heart. For the purpose of investigating directly the injury potential of H2O2 on heart muscle, a cellular model of H2O2-induced myocardial oxidative stress was developed. This model employed primary monolayer cultures of intact, beating neonatal-rat cardiomy-ocytes and discrete concentrations of reagent H2O2 in defined, supplement-free culture medium. Cardiomyocytes challenged with H2O2 readily metabolized it such that the culture content of H2O2 diminished over time, but was not depleted. The consequent H2O2-induced oxidative stress caused lethal sarcolemmal disruption (as measured by lactate dehydrogenase release), and cardiomyocyte integrity could be preserved by catalase. During oxidative stress, a spectrum of cellular derangements developed, including membrane phospholipid peroxidation, thiol oxidation, consumption of the major chain-breaking membrane antiperoxidant (α-tocopherol), and ATP loss. No net change in the protein or phospholipid contents of cardiomyocyte membranes accompanied H2O2-induced oxidative stress, but an increased turnover of these membrane constituents occurred in response to H2O2. Development of lethal cardiomyocyte injury during H2O2-induced oxidative stress did not require the presence of H2O2 itself; a brief “pulse” exposure of the cardiomyocytes to H2O2 was sufficient to incite the pathogenic mechanism leading to cell disruption. Cardiomyocyte disruption was dependent upon an intracellular source of redox-active iron and the iron-dependent transformation of internalized H2O2 into products (e.g., the hydroxyl radical) capable of initiating lipid peroxidation, since iron chelators and hydroxyl-radical scavengers were cytoprotective. The accelerated turnover of cardiomyocyte-membrane protein and phospholipid was inhibited by antiperoxidants, suggesting that the turnover reflected molecular repair of oxidized membrane constituents. Likewise, the consumption of α-tocopherol and the oxidation of cellular thiols appeared to be epiphenomena of peroxidation. Antiperoxidant interventions coordinately abolished both H2O2-induced lipid peroxidation and sarcolemmal disruption, demonstrating that an intimate pathogenic relationship exists between sarcolemmal peroxidation and lethal compromise of cardiomyocyte integrity in response to H2O2-induced oxidative stress. Although sarcolemmal peroxidation was causally related to cardiomyocyte disruption during H2O2-induced oxidative stress, a nonperoxidative route of H2O2 cytotoxicity was also identified, which was expressed in the complete absence of cardiomyocyte-membrane peroxidation. The latter mode of H2O2-induced cardiomyocyte injury involved ATP loss such that membrane peroxidation and cardiomyocyte disruption on the one hand and cellular de-energization on the other could be completely dissociated. The cellular pathophysiology of H2O2 as a vectorial signal for cardiomyocyte necrosis that “triggers” irreversible peroxidative disruption of the sarcolemma has implications regarding potential mechanisms of oxidative injury in the postischemic heart.