The effect of a reduction in arterial oxygen content, equivalent to acute exposure to an altitude of 2300 metres above sea level, on myocardial blood flow and oxygen and lactate exchange was studied by coronary sinus catheterization in 12 healthy men. Measurements were made at rest, during atrial pacing and during submaximal and maximal exercise both breathing air and breathing 15% oxygen (hypoxia). Coronary sinus blood flow was measured by thermodilution and the possibility of a simultaneous uptake and release of lactate by the heart was calculated using intravenous infusion of 14C lactate. At all levels of cardiac power output myocardial oxygen consumption was the same during hypoxia as during air breathing. At rest this was achieved entirely by a more complete extraction of oxygen from the coronary blood, during maximal exercise entirely by a greater coronary sinus blood flow, while at intermediate levels of cardiac power output a combination of these mechanisms prevailed. At rest and during submaximal work myocardial lactate extraction was lower with hypoxia than air breathing suggesting a change in myocardial redox state, while the 14C lactate data suggested no significant lactate release or possibly limited areas with some lactate production. During maximal exercise, however, there was no difference in myocardial lactate net extraction between hypoxia and air breathing, which together with the greater blood flow suggests that the heart has a 'coronary flow reserve' permitting maximal exercise at moderate altitude without anaerobic myocardial metabolism.