The ratio of peak hyperemic/basal mean coronary flow velocity, an index of coronary vasodilator reserve, immediately after coronary angioplasty normalizes in less than 50% of patients. To evaluate other indexes of coronary vasodilator capacity, both intracoronary arterial velocity and cardiac venous efflux were measured at rest and during vasodilator-induced coronary hyperemia (intracoronary nitroglycerin and papaverine) before and after angioplasty in 27 patients; 17 patients had measurements of intracoronary velocity alone and 10 had thermodilution measurements of great cardiac vein flow. Coronary flow velocity responses were also measured in 6 angiographically normal segments in patients undergoing angioplasty and in 10 normal left coronary artery segments in patients with normal coronary arteries or isolated right coronary artery disease. Despite significant angiographic (72 +/- 12 to 23 +/- 11% diameter narrowing) and hemodynamic (49 +/- 12 to 19 +/- 12 mm Hg aortocoronary gradient) improvement, coronary vasodilator reserve ratios for both arterial velocity and venous flow after angioplasty were only minimally affected. Angioplasty did not significantly increase rest coronary vein flow or artery flow velocities, but did result in significantly higher papaverine responses after angioplasty. Mean and phasic coronary velocity, diastolic coronary flow velocity integral and measured great cardiac vein flow ratios were significantly lower when compared with those in 16 angiographically normal coronary artery segments. These data indicate that maximal hyperemic coronary flow velocity is increased after angioplasty, but the reserve ratios, calculated by any of several flow velocity indexes, remain minimally improved. Angiographic correlations (percent coronary diameter, absolute diameter or cross-sectional area) with variables of coronary blood flow or velocity suggest that no single variable is useful in assessing angioplasty results. However, postangioplasty arterial mean velocity and diastolic flow velocity integral are nearly normalized in most patients, whereas relative changes remain attenuated. These findings are important in studies assessing coronary vasomotor responses in patients with atherosclerotic coronary disease, especially after angioplasty.