The potential clinical value of QT dispersion (QTd), a measure of the interlead range of QT interval duration in the surface 12-lead ECG, remains ambiguous. The aim of the study was the temporal and spatial analysis of the QT interval in healthy subjects and in patients with coronary artery disease (CAD) using magnetocardiography (MCG) and surface ECG. Standard 12-lead ECG and 37-channel MCG were performed in 20 healthy subjects, 23 patients with CAD without prior myocardial infarction (MI), 31 MI patients and 11 MI patients with ventricular tachycardia (VT). QTd was increased in CAD without MI compared to normals (ECG 46.1 +/- 6.0 vs 42.8 +/- 5.0, P < 0.05; MCG 66.8 +/- 20.3 vs 49.7 +/- 10.8, P < 0.01) and in VT compared to MI (ECG 66.8 +/- 16.5 vs 51.9 +/- 16.6, P < 0.05; MCG 93.6 +/- 29.6 vs 66.8 +/- 20.8, P < 0.005). In MCG, spatial distribution of QT intervals in patient groups differed from those in healthy subjects in three ways: (1) greater dispersion, (2) greater local variability, and (3) a change in overall pattern. This was quantified on the basis of smoothness indexes (SI). Normalized SI was higher in CAD without MI compared to normals (3.8 +/- 1.1 vs 2.7 +/- 0.6, P < 0.001) and in VT compared to MI (6.4 +/- 1.6 vs 4.2 +/- 1.4, P < 0.0005). For the normal-CAD comparison a sensitivity of 74% and a specificity of 80% was obtained, for MI-VT, 100% and 77%, respectively. The results suggest that examining the spatial interlead variability in multichannel MCG may aid in the initial identification of CAD patients with unimpaired left ventricular function and the identification of post-MI patients with augmented risk for VT.