An experimental model was devised to evaluate the effects of elevated coronary sinus pressure on left ventricular performance. Thirteen mongrel dogs were used. The coronary sinus was cannulated and its entire blood flow diverted into a reservoir. The pressure in the coronary sinus was increased from 5 to 25 torr by elevating the drainage reservoir in a stepwise fashion. Cardiac index, coronary arteriovenous difference, rate of rise of left ventricular pressure, left ventricular systolic time intervals, and coronary blood flow were measured. When the coronary sinus pressure reached 15 torr, there was a significant decrease in cardiac index (3.60 +/- 0.5 to 2.70 +/- 0.6 L/min/m2, p less than 0.001), coronary blood flow (13.7 +/- 3.1 to 7.0 +/- 2.1 ml/min, p less than 0.001), rate of rise of left ventricular pressure (1,567 +/- 275 to 1,331 +/- 314, p less than 0.05), and an increase in coronary arteriovenous difference (62.8% +/- 9.3% to 70.5% +/- 5.4% saturation, p less than 0.03). These experimental results were correlated with postoperative catheterization findings in 24 patients with the Fontan procedure. Patients with a mean right atrial pressure less than 15 torr had a left ventricular ejection fraction of 93% +/- 6% of predicted, whereas patients with a right atrial pressure of 15 torr or more had a left ventricular ejection fraction of 75% +/- 13% of predicted (p less than 0.001). These experimental and clinical data strongly suggest that elevated coronary sinus pressure has deleterious effects on ventricular function after the Fontan procedure. Modifications of the procedure, such as using the rudimentary right ventricle when feasible or diverting coronary sinus flow to the pulmonary venous atrium, might decrease coronary sinus hypertension and improve long-term results.