OBJECTIVES: We tested the hypothesis that cardioprotection with ischemic preconditioning (PC) is lost in the aging, or senescent, heart. BACKGROUND: Although infarct size reduction with PC has been documented in virtually all models, a purported exception to this paradigm is the aging heart, the population in which cardioprotection is most relevant. However, no previous studies have assessed the concept of an age-associated loss in the efficacy of PC in an in vivo model of acute myocardial infarction in which definitive hallmarks of cardiovascular aging were demonstrated and a reduction of infarct size, the "gold standard" of PC, served as the primary end point. METHODS: Using the in vivo rabbit model, three cohorts of animals were studied: adult (4 to 6 months old), middle-aged (∼2 years old) and old (∼4 years old) rabbits. Within each cohort we assessed: 1) infarct size (measured by tetrazolium staining and expressed as percent myocardium at risk) in control and PC groups; and 2) morphologic and functional hallmarks of cardiovascular aging (progressive myocyte hypertrophy, increased myocardial fibrosis and attenuated responsiveness to beta-adrenergic stimulation). RESULTS: In adult animals, infarct size was significantly smaller in the PC group than in the control group (29 ± 4% vs. 57 ± 2%; p < 0.01). Although middle-aged and old rabbits exhibited all three archetypal indexes of cardiovascular aging, a comparable (∼50%) reduction in infarct size with PC was evident in both cohorts. CONCLUSIONS: These data provide the first in vivo evidence that infarct size reduction with PC is not precluded by increased cardiovascular age, per se.