The purpose of this study was to evaluate the use of respiratory-related ventricular coupling to differentiate patients with constrictive pericarditis (CP) and restrictive cardiomyopathy (RCM). In 18 histologically proven cases of CP, 6 patients with inflammatory pericarditis (IP), 15 RCM patients and 17 normal subjects, real-time cine MRI was performed in the cardiac short-axis (basal half of the ventricles) during operator-guided deep respiration. The images were analyzed for ventricular septal position and shape during early ventricular filling. Early diastolic septal inversion (I) or flattening (F) was found in all CP (I:15,F:3), and in all IP (I:2,F:4), but seldom in normals (F:1) and not in RCM. The septal abnormalities occurred at the onset of inspiration and rapidly disappeared with the next heartbeats. The amount of ventricular coupling was evaluated by quantifying the difference in the maximal septal excursion between inspiration and expiration. This parameter, normalized to the biventricular diameter, was significantly larger in CP (20.0+/-4.5%, P<0.0001) and IP (14.8+/-3.2%, P<0.0001) patients than in normals (7.0+/-2.4%), whereas RCM patients had a trend toward decreased excursion (4.2+/-1.7%, P=0.11). A cut-off value of 11.8% (mean normals +2 SD) enabled to differentiate CP patients from normals and RCM patients completely. Real-time cine MRI can easily depict increased ventricular coupling, which may be helpful to better differentiate between CP and RCM patients, especially in patients with normal or minimally thickened pericardium. The increase in coupling in IP patients is likely caused by decreased compliance of the inflamed pericardial layers.