The period of hypoxia is an important priming event for the vascular dysfunction that accompanies reperfusion, with endothelial cells (ECs) and neutrophils (PMNs) playing a central role. We hypothesized that EC Weibel-Palade (WP) body exocytosis during the hypoxic/ischemic period during organ preservation permits brisk PMN recruitment into postischemic tissue, a process further amplified in an oxidant-rich milieu. Exposure of human umbilical vein ECs to a hypoxic environment (pO2 approximately 20 torr) stimulated release of von Willebrand factor (vWF), stored in EC WP bodies, as well as increased expression of the WP body-derived PMN adhesion molecule P-selectin at the EC surface. Increased binding of 111In-labeled PMNs to hypoxic EC monolayers (compared with normoxic controls) was blocked with a blocking antibody to P-selectin, but was not affected by a nonblocking control antibody. Although increased P-selectin expression and vWF release were also noted during reoxygenation, hypoxia alone (even in the presence of antioxidants) was sufficient to increase WP body exocytosis. To determine the relevance of these observations to hypothermic cardiac preservation, during which the pO2 within the cardiac vasculature declines to similarly low levels, experiments were performed in a rodent (rat and mouse) cardiac preservation/transplantation model. Immunodepletion of recipient PMNs or administration of a blocking anti-P-selectin antibody before transplantation resulted in reduced graft neutrophil infiltration and improved graft survival, compared with identically preserved hearts transplanted into control recipients. To establish the important role of endothelial P-selectin expression on the donor vasculature, murine cardiac transplants were performed using homozygous P-selectin deficient and wild-type control donor hearts flushed free of blood/platelets before preservation/transplantation. P-selectin-null hearts transplanted into wild-type recipients demonstrated a marked (13-fold) reduction in graft neutrophil infiltration and increased graft survival compared with wild-type hearts transplanted into wild-type recipients. To determine whether coronary endothelial WP exocytosis may occur during cardiac preservation in humans, the release of vWF into the coronary sinus (CS) was measured in 32 patients during open heart surgery. CS samples obtained at the start and conclusion of the ischemic period demonstrated an increase in CS vWF antigen (by ELISA) consisting of predominantly high molecular weight multimers (by immunoelectrophoresis). These data suggest that EC WP exocytosis occurs during hypothermic cardiac preservation, priming the vasculature to recruit PMNs rapidly during reperfusion.