Background: The hypermetabolic state induced by acute endotoxemia and malignant hyperthermia (MH) may be indistinguishable. The aims of this study were (1) to investigate the differences between MH and sepsis, (2) to determine whether acute endotoxemia can trigger MH, and (3) to establish the effects of dantrolene in these two disorders. Methods: Three groups of swine were studied. All pigs were invasively monitored and initially anesthetized with nontriggering agents. A placebo MH-susceptible group (n = 5) received normal saline whereas the endotoxin groups (MH-susceptible, n = 6; MH- negative, n = 4) received intravenous endotoxin (250 μg/kg total) during 2.5 h. Halothane (1.5%) and succinylcholine (2-4 mg/kg) were then administered, followed by two doses of dantrolene (4 mg/kg total). Results: Endotoxin infusion resulted in pulmonary hypertension and systemic hypotension in pigs with and without the MH mutation, but did not trigger MH. Halothane and succinylcholine triggered MH, evidenced by a markedly higher oxygen consumption in the MH-susceptible pigs that received endotoxin (325 ± 196 ml/min) and those that did not (374 ± 110 ml/min) compared to the MH- negative pigs (69 ± 15 ml/min, P < 0.0009), as well as muscular rigidity in the susceptible animals. Dantrolene reversed these changes. Three of the six MH-susceptible pigs that received endotoxin died; two died soon after triggering and one after dantrolene administration. In contrast, none of the MH-negative pigs or the MH-susceptible pigs that did not receive endotoxin died (0 of 9 vs. 3 of 6, P = 0.044). Conclusion: Endotoxemia does not trigger MH, but may worsen outcome if it occurs.