Allopurinol, an inhibitor of xanthine oxidase, was shown to improve the regional ventricular function after coronary artery occlusion and reperfusion in animal models. The effects of oral administration of allopurinol on a transient increase in free radical generation after primary percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty (PTCA) in patients with acute myocardial infarction (AMI) and on their clinical outcomes were examined. Thirty-eight AMI patients undergoing primary PTCA were randomly assigned to control (group 1, n = 20) and allopurinol treatment groups (group 2, n = 18). Allopurinol (400 mg) was administered orally just after the admission (approximately 60 min before reperfusion). Free radical production was assessed by successive measurement of urinary excretion of 8-epi-prostaglandin F(2alpha) (PGF(2alpha)) after PTCA. Urinary 8-epi-PGF(2alpha) excretion was increased by twofold at 60-90 min after PTCA compared with the baseline value in group 1. This increase was completely inhibited in group 2. Plasma allopurinol concentration was 1,146 +/- 55 ng/ml in group 2 when reperfusion was achieved. Slow flow in the recanalized coronary artery after PTCA occurred less frequently in group 2 than in group 1. Cardiac index determined just after reperfusion and left ventricular ejection fraction at 6 months after PTCA were both significantly greater in group 2 than in group 1 although pulmonary capillary wedge pressure was similar in the two groups. In conclusion, allopurinol pretreatment is effective in inhibiting generation of oxygen-derived radicals during reperfusion therapy and the recovery of left ventricular function in humans.