BACKGROUND: Lipid emulsions have been used to treat various drug toxicities and for total parenteral nutrition therapy. Their usefulness has also been confirmed in patients with local anesthetic-induced cardiac toxicity. The purpose of this study was to measure the hemodynamic and composition effects of lipid emulsions and to elucidate the mechanism associated with changes in intracellular calcium levels in myocardiocytes. METHODS: We measured hemodynamic effects using a digital analysis system after Intralipid(R) and Lipofundin(R) MCT/LCT were infused into hearts hanging in a Langendorff perfusion system. We measured the effects of the lipid emulsions on intracellular calcium levels in H9c2 cells by confocal microscopy. RESULTS: Infusion of Lipofundin(R) MCT/LCT 20% (1 ml/kg) resulted in a significant increase in left ventricular systolic pressure compared to that after infusing modified Krebs-Henseleit solution (1 ml/kg) (P = 0.003, 95% confidence interval [CI], 2.4-12.5). Lipofundin(R) MCT/LCT 20% had a more positive inotropic effect than that of Intralipid(R) 20% (P = 0.009, 95% CI, 1.4-11.6). Both lipid emulsion treatments increased intracellular calcium levels. Lipofundin(R) MCT/LCT (0.01%) increased intracellular calcium level more than that of 0.01% Intralipid(R) (P < 0.05, 95% CI, 0.0-1.9). CONCLUSIONS: These two lipid emulsions had different inotropic effects depending on their triglyceride component. The inotropic effect of lipid emulsions could be related with intracellular calcium level.