Whether the density of sarcoplasmic reticulum (SR) calcium release channels / ryanodine receptors in the heart declines with age is not clear. We investigated age-related changes in the density of «3H»-ryanodine receptors in crude ventricular homogenates, which contained all ligand binding sites in heart and in isolated junctional SR membranes. Experiments utilized young (120 days) and older adult (300 days) hamsters. «3H»-ryanodine binding site density did not change with age in crude homogenate preparations, although total heart protein concentration increased significantly with age. In contrast, the density of «3H»-ryanodine binding sites decreased markedly in heavy SR membranes purified from older hearts. These results show that demonstration of age-related changes in cardiac ryanodine receptor density depends upon the preparation used. Furthermore, the increase in total ventricular protein with age suggests that normalization of data by membrane protein should be used with caution in studies of aging heart.