Background/Aims: A major challenge for current therapeutic strategies against ischemia/reperfusion (I/R) is the lack of effective drugs. Considering luteolin enhances the activity of sarcoplasmic reticulum Ca2+-ATPase (SERCA2a) to improve the systolic/diastolic function of rat hearts and cardiomyocytes during the I/R process, we studied the regulatory function of the p38 MAPK pathway in this protective mechanism. Methods: Isolated cardiomyocytes and perfused hearts were separately divided into five groups and used to investigate I/R. The phosphorylation of p38 and phospholamban (p-PLB), the levels and activity of SERCA2a and the levels of proteins related to apoptosis were measured. Apoptotic cells were assessed using the TUNEL assay. Single-cell shortening, Ca2+ transients, and the decay of the mitochondrial membrane potential (Δψm) were detected. Results: The p38 MAPK pathway was activated during the I/R process, and inhibiting it with SB203580 promoted p-PLB, which enhanced the activity of SERCA2a and relieved the calcium overload to promote the recovery of the Δψm and reduce cardiomyocyte apoptosis in I/R. Luteolin also suppressed the activation of the p38 MAPK pathway and showed cardioprotective effects during I/R injury. Conclusions: We conclude that luteolin enhances SERCA2a activity to improve systolic/diastolic function during I/R in rat hearts and cardiomyocytes by attenuating the inhibitive effects of the p38 pathway on p-PLB.

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