Surgical occlusion of the left coronary artery of the rat is a relatively simple, economical technique for producing experimental myocardial infarction (MI). Histologic study of 1- to 21-day-old MI in rats showed that following a mild and brief acute inflammatory response at the margins of the necrotic myocardium, there is chronic inflammation, vascular and collagenous proliferation, and resorption of necrostic tissue which progresses until scar formation is complete, usually by 21 days. From Day 1 to Day 21 the volume of infarcted myocardium decreases from 45.9 +/- 5.9% (mean +/- SEM) to 26.1 +/- 3.2% of the left ventricle and infarct thickness decreases from 1.30 +/- 0.06 mm to 0.47 +/- 0.02 mm. Concomitantly, the percent of the surface area of the left ventricle which is infarcted decreases insignificantly from 55.7 +/- 7.2% to 48.3 +/- 4.2%, indicating that the decrease in volume of the infarcted tissue occurs primarily as a result of thinning of the MI. This study provides qualitative and quantitative information on the natural history of MI in rats, which should be useful as a baseline for future studies.