Positron emission tomography was used to image blood flow and metabolic tracers in risk zone myocardium after left anterior descending coronary artery occlusion during synchronized coronary venous retroperfusion. Six control and seven intervention open chest dogs had occlusion of the mid left anterior descending coronary artery. Synchronized retroperfusion commenced 25 min later. Flow tracers (rubidium-82 and nitrogen-13 ammonia) were injected retrogradely. Three hours after coronary occlusion, fluorine-18 (F-18) deoxyglucose uptake in the control and treatment groups was compared. At 200 min of occlusion, infarct size was assessed. Retrograde flow tracer uptake was observed in the risk zone in the seven intervention dogs. Fluorine-18 deoxyglucose uptake in the risk zone was increased in five of the six intervention dogs but was reduced in five of the six control dogs. The risk zone to normal zone F-18 deoxyglucose count ratio was higher in the intervention than the control group (1.13 +/- 0.39 vs. 0.59 +/- 0.51; p less than 0.05). The endocardial subsegment risk zone to normal zone F-18 deoxyglucose count ratio was also significantly higher in the intervention group. Percent infarction in the risk zone was 70% lower in the group treated with synchronized retroperfusion than in the control group (18.4 +/- 22.6% vs. 61.2 +/- 25.4%; p less than 0.02). Thus, positron emission tomography revealed that retroperfusion could deliver oxygenated blood and maintain metabolism in risk zone myocardium. Infarct size was limited to 30% of that of control. In acute closure of the left anterior descending coronary artery, synchronized retroperfusion might be considered for maintaining viability of the jeopardized myocardium if the artery cannot be reopened rapidly.