A great deal of current research is directed to finding a way to minimize thermal injury in the esophagus during radiofrequency catheter ablation of the atrium. A recent clinical study employing a cooling intraesophageal balloon reported a reduction of the temperature in the esophageal lumen. However, it could not be determined whether the deeper muscular layer of the esophagus was cooled enough to prevent injury. We built a model based on an agar phantom in order to experimentally study the thermal behavior of this balloon by measuring the temperature not only on the balloon, but also at a hypothetical point between the esophageal lumen and myocardium (2 mm distant). Controlled temperature (55 degrees C) ablations were conducted for 120 s. The results showed that (1) the cooling balloon provides a reduction in the final temperature reached, both on the balloon surface and at a distance of 2 mm; (2) coolant temperature has a significant effect on the temperature measured at 2 mm from the esophageal lumen (it has a less effect on the temperature measured on the balloon surface) and (3) the pre-cooling period has a significant effect on the temperature measured on the balloon surface (the effect on the temperature measured 2 mm away is small). The results were in good agreement with those obtained in a previous clinical study. The study suggests that the cooling balloon gives thermal protection to the esophagus when a minimum pre-cooling period of 2 min is programmed at a coolant temperature of 5 degrees C or less.