The temporal evolution of left ventricular (LV) function after intracoronary streptokinase therapy for acute myocardial infarction (AMI) was assessed from the data of 264 patients who had complete occlusion of either the left anterior descending or the right coronary artery before treatment. Angiography was performed immediately, and at 3 days and 6 months after AMI in 91%, 71% and 47% of the study group, respectively. Wall motion was measured by the centerline method. In patients with sustained reperfusion, the ejection fraction decreased at 3 days (delta = -2.0 +/- 9.9%, n = 134, p = 0.02) and recovered later (from 54 +/- 12% acutely to 57 +/- 12% at 6 months, n = 82, p less than 0.05). These changes in global function were associated with a marked regression in hyperkinesis in the noninfarcted wall by 3 days, and delayed recovery of wall motion in the infarct region (delta = 0.2 +/- 0.9 at 3 days, p = 0.055; 1.0 +/- 1.2 at 6 months, p less than 0.001). Patients without reperfusion or with reocclusion had a more severe decrease in ejection fraction at 3 days, and little or no subsequent functional recovery. The length of the hypokinetic segment increased significantly by 3 days but subsequently diminished to slightly less than the acute value. It is concluded that full recovery of ischemically impaired myocardium takes greater than 3 days, but compensatory hyperkinesis regresses earlier so that global LV function deteriorates by the third day. Variability or deterioration of LV function early after AMI need not be due to infarct extension; it can reflect regression of hyperkinesis in the noninfarcted region.