In view of the profound functional and structural abnormalities shown in our previous studies in cultured, iron-loaded rat heart cells, we have examined the ability of the orally effective iron chelators dimethyl-3-hydroxypyrid-4-one (DMHP or L1) and diethyl-3-hydroxy-pyrid- 4-one (DEHP or CP94) and of deferoxamine (DF) to reverse the damage caused by iron loading to heart cell organelles. At a concentration of 1.0 mmol/L, all three iron chelators were equally efficient in removing iron and restoring the activity of the thiolic sarcolemmal enzymes 5′- nucleotidase and Na,K,ATPase. However, at 0.1 mmol/L DMHP and DEHP were less effective than DF both in their iron-mobilizing effect and in promoting thiolic enzyme recovery. The superior efficiency of DF at low concentrations illustrates the advantage of the hexadentate chelating action of DF as compared with bidentate chelators such as DMHP and DEHP requiring a 3 to 1 molar ratio to iron for optimal effect. In contrast to its beneficial effect on sarcolemmal enzyme activity, iron chelation was unable to reverse the increase in beta-hexosaminidase activity caused by abnormal lysosomal fragility. Our study demonstrates for the first time that iron-induced peroxidative damage to the myocardial cell is associated with a marked loss of Na,K,ATPase activity, an enzyme with a major role in the maintenance of cellular resting potential. The timing of this damage and the restoration of Na,K,ATPase function by iron-chelating treatment suggest a cause-and-effect relationship between the observed injury to the sarcolemmal enzyme and the reversible electrophysiologic abnormalities observed in the same heart culture system in our previous studies.