Cyclosporin A (CsA) inhibits opening of the mitochondrial permeability transition pore (MPTP), a critical event in some forms of necrotic and apoptotic cell death, by binding to cyclophilin D (CyP-D) and inhibiting its peptidyl-prolyl cis-trans isomerase (PPIase) activity. Sanglifehrin A (SfA), like CsA, exerts its immunosuppressive action by binding to cyclophilin A but at a different site from CsA, and unlike the latter, SfA does not inhibit calcineurin activity. Here we demonstrate that SfA inhibits the PPIase activity of CyP-D (K(0.5) 2 nm) and acts as a potent inhibitor of MPTP opening under both energized and de-energized conditions. However, unlike CsA, the dose-response curve for inhibition by SfA is sigmoidal rather than hyperbolic, suggesting a multimeric structure for the MPTP with cooperativity between subunits. Furthermore, SfA does not prevent CyP-D binding to submitochondrial particles or detergent-solubilized adenine nucleotide translocase (ANT), implying that CyP-D binding to the ANT does not require PPIase activity but pore opening does. Once bound to the MPTP, SfA is not readily dissociated, and inhibition of pore opening is maintained following extensive washing. To investigate the potential of SfA as an inhibitor of cell death in vivo, we used the Langendorff perfused rat heart. SfA caused a time-dependent inhibition of the MPTP that was maintained on mitochondrial isolation to a greater extent than was CsA inhibition. We demonstrate that SfA, like CsA, improves the recovery of left ventricular developed pressure during reperfusion after 30 min of global ischemia and greatly reduces lactate dehydrogenase release, implying inhibition of necrotic damage. Because SfA does not inhibit calcineurin activity, our data suggest that it may be more desirable than CsA for protecting tissues recovering from ischemic episodes and for studying the role of the MPTP in cell death.