To determine whether the onset of myocardial infarction occurs randomly throughout the day, we analyzed the time of onset of pain in 2999 patients admitted with myocardial infarction. A marked circadian rhythm in the frequency of onset was detected, with a peak from 6 a.m. to noon (P less than 0.01). In 703 of the patients, the time of the first elevation in the plasma creatine kinase MB (CK-MB) level could be used to time the onset of myocardial infarction objectively. CK-MB-estimated timing confirmed the existence of a circadian rhythm, with a three-fold increase in the frequency of onset of myocardial infarction at peak (9 a.m.) as compared with trough (11 p.m.) periods. The circadian rhythm was not detected in patients receiving beta-adrenergic blocking agents before myocardial infarction but was present in those not receiving such therapy. If coronary arteries become vulnerable to occlusion when the intima covering an atherosclerotic plaque is disrupted, the circadian timing of myocardial infarction may result from a variation in the tendency to thrombosis. If the rhythmic processes that drive the circadian rhythm of myocardial-infarction onset can be identified, their modification may delay or prevent the occurrence of infarction.