Neuregulin (NRG)-1beta has a prosurvival effect on cardiac myocytes via the phosphatidylinositol-3-kinase/Akt pathway, but the physiological regulators of this system in the intact heart are unknown. In this study, we tested the hypothesis that reactive oxygen species regulate NRG/erbB signaling. We used isolated adult rat ventricular myocytes (ARVMs) or cardiac microvascular endothelial cells (CMECs) in monoculture, or together in coculture. H2O2 induced NRG-1beta release from CMECs in a concentration-dependent manner, and conditioned medium from H2O2-treated CMEC activated ARVM erbB4. NRG-1beta release occurred via proteolytic cleavage of 115-kDa transmembrane NRG-1beta and was inhibited by the metalloproteinase inhibitor 1,10-phenanthroline. In myocyte monoculture, H2O2 induced erbB4-dependent, but NRG-independent, activation of Akt. To elucidate the bioactivity of CMEC-derived NRG-1beta on ARVMs, we examined H2O2-induced myocyte apoptosis in co-culture using an antibody to NRG-1beta. The percentages of terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase-mediated dUTP nick end labeling-positive cells were significantly higher in the anti-NRG-1beta group than in the control group. The change in apoptosis induced by anti-NRG-1beta in co-culture was similar in magnitude to the protection of myocytes by addition of recombinant NRG-1beta to ARVM monocultures. Activation of NRG/erbB paracrine signaling was also seen in the intact heart subjected to oxidative stress by ischemia-reperfusion injury. Isolated perfused mouse hearts subjected to 15 min of ischemia, followed by 30 min of reperfusion, showed complete proteolytic cleavage of 115-kDa NRG-1beta, with concomitant erbB4 phosphorylation. These results demonstrate that reactive oxygen species activate NRG-1beta/erbB4 paracrine signaling in the heart and suggest that this system is involved in cardiac adaptation to oxidative stress.