While necrosis is known as a major mechanism for the loss of viability of skeletal muscle following ischaemia and reperfusion, much less is known of the role of apoptosis. In this study rat hind limbs were subjected to 2 h of tourniquet ischaemia, then reperfused for either 0, 0.25, 0.5, 1, 3, 8, 16 or 24 h (n = 6 per group). Mean viability of muscle, assessed by tetrazolium dye reduction, after 2 h ischaemia and 24 h reperfusion was 17%. Histological examination revealed disrupted, necrotic muscle fibres from 30 min to 24 h reperfusion. Apoptotic nuclei were identified by haematoxylin staining and TUNEL, terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase mediated dUTP nick end labelling. No TUNEL-positive cells were observed at the end of the ischaemic period, but a small number of TUNEL-positive endothelial and smooth muscle cells were found at 30 min reperfusion, with a progressive increase in their number up to 24 h reperfusion. Apoptotic neutrophils were detected after 8-24 h reperfusion. At no stage was apoptosis seen in the nuclei of skeletal muscle fibres. It appears that apoptosis plays no role in the death of muscle fibres after ischaemia-reperfusion injury to skeletal muscle.