This study describes increased sarcolemmal permeability and myofilamentar damage that occur together with lipid peroxidation and protein nitration in the myocardium in severe sepsis induced by cecal ligation and puncture. Male C57BL/6 mice were submitted to moderate and severe septic injury and sham operation. Using light and laser confocal microscopy, diffuse foci of myocytolysis associated with focal disruption of the actin/myosin contractile apparatus could be seen in hearts with severe septic injury. The myocardial expressions of the sarcomeric proteins myosin and actin were downregulated by both severe and moderate injuries. The detection of albumin staining in the cytoplasm of myocytes to evaluate sarcolemmal permeability provided evidence of severe and mild injury of the plasma membrane in hearts with severe and moderate septic injury, respectively. The administration of a superoxide scavenger caused marked reduction of sarcolemmal permeability, indicating the involvement of free radicals in its genesis. On electron microscopy, these changes were seen to correspond to spread blocks of a few myocytes with fragmentation and dissolution of myofibrils, intracellular edema, and, occasionally, rupture of the sarcolemma. In addition, oxidative damage to lipids, using anti-4- hydroxynonenal, an indicator of oxidative stress and disruption of plasma membrane lipids, and to proteins, using antinitrotyrosine, a stable biomarker of peroxynitrite-mediated protein nitration, was demonstrated. These findings make plausible the hypothesis that increased sarcolemmal permeability might be a primary event in myocardial injury in severe sepsis possibly due to oxidative damage to lipids and proteins that could precede phenotypic changes that characterize a septic cardiomyopathy.