We studied all patients with postinfarction ventricular septal rupture referred to the Oxford Heart Centre for operation over a 4 1/2-year period. Twenty one women and 8 men were admitted to the Centre, 13 of whom had received streptokinase and 16 of whom had not. The median interval between symptomatic onset of myocardial infarction and the development of septal rupture was 24 hours for those treated by early thrombolysis (all streptokinase) and six days for those who were not. Of the 26 patients who underwent surgical repair, three were operated on less than 36 hours after streptokinase infusion, in one case within 12 hours of thrombolytic treatment. Macroscopic observation of the disintegrating myocardium showed muscle bundles dissected by blood rendered incoagulable by thrombolytic treatment, together with the histologic features of reperfusion injury. The overall surgical mortality rate for the streptokinase group was 33% and for the others 21%. The patient operated on within 12 hours of thrombolytic treatment recovered uneventfully. Six of seven surgical deaths were caused by left ventricular or biventricular failure and one by gastrointestinal hemorrhage. All survivors were in New York Heart Association classes II or III between 2 weeks and 4 1/2 years after operation. We conclude that thrombolysis leads to early breakdown of the interventricular septum after acute myocardial infarction but does not preclude early repair.