Positron emission tomography with 13N-ammonia and 18F-2-deoxyglucose was used to assess myocardial perfusion and glucose utilization in 51 myocardial segments with a stress thallium defect in 12 patients. Myocardial infarction was defined by a concordant reduction in segmental perfusion and glucose utilization, and myocardial ischemia was identified by preservation of glucose utilization in segments with rest hypoperfusion. Of the 51 segments studied, 36 had a fixed thallium defect, 11 had a partially reversible defect and 4 had a completely reversible defect. Only 15 (42%) of the 36 segments with a fixed defect and 4 (36%) of the 11 segments with a partially reversible defect exhibited myocardial infarction on study with positron tomography. In contrast, residual myocardial glucose utilization was identified in the majority of segments with a fixed (58%) or a partially reversible (64%) thallium defect. All of the segments with a completely reversible defect appeared normal on positron tomography. Apparent improvement in the thallium defect on delayed images did not distinguish segments with ischemia from infarction. Thus, positron emission tomography reveals evidence of persistent tissue metabolism in the majority of segments with a fixed or partially resolving stress thallium defect, implying that markers of perfusion alone may underestimate the extent of viable tissue in hypoperfused myocardial segments.