The present study was done to quantitate the evolution of myocardial ischemic cell death within the framework of (1) the anatomical boundaries of the ischemic bed at risk and (2) the magnitude and transmural distribution of collateral blood flow. Myocardial ischemia was produced by proximal circumflex (LCC) occlusions in open chest dogs. Infarcts reperfused at 40 minutes, 3 hours, or 6 hours were compared with permanent infarcts. All dogs were sacrificed at 4 days. Regional myocardial blood flow was measured with 9-micrometer tracer microspheres before, and 20 minutes after, LCC occlusion. The location and size of the ischemic LCC bed at risk was determined by a dye injection technique. Infarct size was quantitated from multiple histologic sections. Necrosis involved 28 per cent, 70 per cent, and 72 per cent of the ischemic bed at risk in infarcts reperfused at 40 minutes, 3 hours, and 6 hours versus 79 per cent following permanent LCC ligation. Viable and potentially salvageable subepicardial muscle persisted for at least 3 hours after the onset of ischemia. Most of the salvageable myocardium was in the subepicardial region. In all groups, the lateral margins of necrosis were sharp in the subendocardial zone and were determined by the anatomical boundaries of the ischemic LCC bed at risk. LCC bed size ranged from 29 to 48 per cent of the left ventricle and thus contributed to variation in infarct size. However, infarct size, as a percentage of bed size, was determined by the transmural extent of necrosis within that bed (r = -0.97). This transmural extent of necrosis was related to subepicardial collateral flow after 3 hours (r = 0.92) and 6 or 96 hours (r = -0.85) but not after 40 minutes (r = -0.26) of ischemia. Thus, irreversible injury of ischemic myocardium developed as a transmural wavefront, occurring first in the subendocardial myocardium but ultimately becoming nearly transmural. Eventual transmural necrosis, and therefore over-all infarct size was determined by, and can be predicted from flow measurements obtained shortly after coronary occlusion.