The determinants of the altered whole blood filterability observed during coronary ischemia are still under discussion. Since no studies have been carried out to date on what exactly causes these alterations during the early stages of controlled ischemia in coronary heart disease, a model was set up using a bicycle ergometer test (with a 25 W increase every 2 minutes). Blood samples were taken from 48 stable angina pectoris patients and from a group of 28 matched controls before and immediately after exercise and 8 minutes later. Plasma viscosity, the filterability (through 5 microns diameter pore filters) of whole blood, erythrocytes, and polymorphonuclear and mononuclear leukocytes (separated by density gradient) were monitored. Alterations in whole blood filterability could be linked only to an impairment in polymorphonuclear cell filterability in those stable angina pectoris patients who reported chest pain and/or whose ST segment depression was greater than or equal to 2 mm.