Skeletal muscle ischemia results in energy depletion and intracellular acidosis. Reperfusion is associated with impaired adenine nucleotide resynthesis, edema formation, and myocyte necrosis. The purpose of these studies was to define the time course of cellular injury and adenine nucleotide depletion and resynthesis in postischemic skeletal muscle during prolonged reperfusion in vivo. The isolated canine gracilis muscle model was used. After 5 h of ischemia, muscles were reperfused for either 1 or 48 h. Lactate and creatine phosphokinase (CPK) release during reperfusion was calculated from arteriovenous differences and blood flow. Adenine nucleotides, nucleosides, bases, and creatine phosphate were quantified by high-performance liquid chromatography, and muscle necrosis was assessed by nitroblue tetrazolium staining. Reperfusion resulted in a rapid release of lactate, which paralleled the increase in blood flow, and a delayed but prolonged release of CPK. Edema formation and muscle necrosis increased between 1 and 48 h of reperfusion (P less than 0.05). Recovery of energy stores during reperfusion was related to the extent of postischemic necrosis, which correlated with the extent of nucleotide dephosphorylation during ischemia (r = 0.88, P less than 0.001). These results suggest that both adenine nucleotide resynthesis and myocyte necrosis, which are protracted processes in reperfusing skeletal muscle, are related to the extent of nucleotide dephosphorylation during ischemia.