We established, for the isolated, isovolumically beating canine left ventricle, a comprehensive description of postextrasystolic contractile strength (dP/dtmax) as a function of extrasystolic and postextrasystolic stimulus intervals. In contrast to previous studies of postextrasystolic beats in in situ hearts, these isolated ventricles contracted isovolumically so that dP/dtmax was not affected by fluctuations in preload and afterload and was therefore considered to be a reliable index of intrinsic contractility. With the interval preceding extrasystoles constant, postextrasystolic contractile strength increased monoexponentially to a plateau as the interval preceding postextrasystoles lengthened, with a mean time constant (+/- SD) of 182 +/- 44 msec (n = 53). The onset of this increase in postextrasystolic contractile strength coincided with repolarization of the extrasystolic action potential. With the interval preceding postextrasystoles held constant and long (1200 msec), postextrasystolic contractile strength decreased according to a monoexponential function as the interval preceding extrasystoles lengthened [mean time constant (+/- SD) of 176 +/- 18 msec (n = 10)]. These phenomena could be quantitatively summarized by a single equation description of postextrasystolic contractile strength which involved monoexponential functions with one time constant. The mathematical form of this description led us to a simple interpretation of these phenomena in terms of currently proposed excitation-contraction coupling models of the heart.