Chronotropic incompetence, or an attenuated heart rate response to exercise, has been shown to be associated with an adverse outcome. It is not known whether chronotropic incompetence predicts all-cause mortality independent of angiographic severity of coronary artery disease (CAD). Study subjects included consecutive patients who underwent first-time, symptom-limited exercise treadmill testing and coronary angiography within 90 days; no patient was taking beta blockers or had a history of heart failure, valve disease, or prior revascularization. Chronotropic response was measured in 2 ways: (1) failure to reach 85% of the age-predicted maximum heart rate, and (2) a low chronotropic index, a measure of exercise heart rate response that accounts for effects of age, physical fitness, and resting heart rate. Angiographic severity of CAD was assessed using the Duke Prognostic Weight Score, with a score > or = 42 considered to be indicative of severe CAD. Among 384 eligible patients, failure to reach 85% of the age-predicted maximum heart rate occurred in 61 (16%) and a low chronotropic index was noted in 133 (35%). Severe CAD was present in 63 (16%). During 6 years of follow-up there were 56 deaths. Mortality was predicted by failure to reach target heart rate (RR 1.85, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.01 to 3.39, chi-square = 4, p = 0.05), by severe CAD (RR 2.21, 95% CI 1.24 to 3.95, chi-square = 8, p = 0.007), and, most strongly, by a low chronotropic index (RR 2.72, 95% CI 1.60 to 4.61, chi-square = 15, p = 0.0002). In a multivariable model, low chronotropic index remained predictive of death (adjusted RR 2.22, 95% CI 1.29 to 3.82, p = 0.004), whereas severe CAD no longer predicted death (adjusted RR 1.27, 95% CI 0.70 to 2.31, p > 0.4). Thus, chronotropic incompetence is a strong and independent predictor of death, even after accounting for the angiographic severity of CAD.