Coronary flow reserve, exercise thallium-201 scintigraphy and exercise radionuclide ventriculography were compared in 18 patients with chest pain and angiographically normal coronary arteries. Regional exercise thallium-201 perfusion was abnormal in three patients, regional exercise wall motion was abnormal in three other patients and results of both tests were abnormal in one additional patient. Left ventricular ejection fraction responses were abnormal in five of these seven patients. The coronary flow reserve of arterial distributions with abnormal perfusion or regional dysfunction was significantly lower than that of distributions associated with normal radionuclide results (1.42 +/- 0.23 versus 2.58 +/- 0.83, p less than 0.001). All patients with abnormal scintigraphic results had low coronary flow reserve (less than 1.95) in at least one distribution. Perfusion abnormalities appeared to be more localized in the arterial distributions with the lowest flow reserve. Only two patients had low flow reserve (less than 1.95) with normal scintigraphic results; both were hypertensive. These data suggest that abnormal exercise scintigraphic findings in patients with angiographically normal coronary arteries and chest pain are indicative of true blood flow or perfusion abnormalities.