Positron emission tomography allows noninvasive assessment of myocardial blood flow and metabolism, and may aid in defining the extent and severity of an ischemic injury. This hypothesis was tested by studying, in chronically instrumented dogs, regional blood flow and metabolism during and after a 3 hour balloon occlusion of the left anterior descending coronary artery. The metabolic findings after ischemia were compared with the recovery of regional function over a 4 week period. N-13 ammonia was used as a blood flow tracer, and C-11 palmitic acid and F-18 deoxyglucose as tracers of fatty acid and glucose metabolism, respectively. Regional myocardial function was monitored with ultrasonic crystals implanted subendocardially. Regional function improved most between 24 hours and 1 week after reperfusion, but was still attenuated at 4 weeks. The slow functional recovery was paralleled by sustained metabolic abnormalities, reflected by segmentally delayed clearance of C-11 activity from myocardium and increased uptake of F-18 deoxyglucose. Absence of blood flow and C-11 palmitic acid uptake at 24 hours of reperfusion correlated with extensive necrosis as evidenced by histologic examination. Conversely, uptake of C-11 palmitic acid with delayed C-11 clearance and increased F-18 deoxyglucose accumulation identified reversibly injured tissue that subsequently recovered functionally and revealed little necrosis. Thus, recovery of metabolism after 3 hours of ischemia is slow in canine myocardium and paralleled by slow recovery of function. Metabolic indexes by positron tomography early after reperfusion can identify necrotic and reversibly injured tissue. Positron tomography may therefore aid in defining the extent and prognosis of an ischemic injury in patients undergoing reperfusion during evolving myocardial infarction.