One hundred eight-three men underwent stress-redistribution thallium-201 myocardial perfusion tomography. After evaluation of various preprocessing filters in a phantom study, the Butterworth filter with a frequency cutoff of 0.2 cycles/pixel, order 5 (which provided optimal filter power) was used in the back projection algorithm of the patient studies. All short-axis and apical portions of vertical long-axis images were quantified by dividing each myocardial slice into 60 equal sectors and displaying the maximal count per sector as a linear profile. In a pilot group consisting of 20 normal men (less than 5% likelihood of coronary artery disease) and 25 men with coronary artery disease (greater than or equal to 50% coronary stenosis by angiography), profiles representing the lowest observed value below the mean normal profiles provided the best threshold for defining normal limits. Abnormal portions of the patient profiles were plotted on a two-dimensional polar map. The polar map was divided into 102 sectors, and sectors with a probability of greater than or equal to 80% for disease of each one of the three major coronary arteries were clustered to represent specific coronary artery territories. Receiver operating characteristic curve analysis for defect size showed that the optimal threshold for defining a definite perfusion defect was 12% for the left anterior descending and left circumflex and 8% for the right coronary artery territories. These criteria were prospectively applied to an additional 92 patients with angiographic coronary artery disease, 18 patients with normal coronary arteriograms and 28 patients with less than 5% likelihood of coronary disease. Sensitivity, specificity (in patients with normal coronary arteriograms) and normalcy rate (in patients with less than 5% likelihood of coronary artery disease) for overall detection of coronary disease were 96%, 56% and 86%, respectively. Sensitivity and specificity for identification of individual diseased vessels were, respectively, 78% and 85% for the left anterior descending, 79% and 60% for the left circumflex and 81% and 71% for the right coronary artery. These results were not significantly different from those of the pilot group. An optimized quantitative method for interpretation of stress thallium-201 myocardial perfusion tomography has been developed. Prospective application of this method indicates that the technique is accurate for the overall detection of coronary artery disease and identification of disease in individual arteries.