Leukotrienes are naturally occurring vasoactive metabolites of arachidonic acid that increase during inflammatory reactions and anaphylaxis. Coronary constriction and reduced myocardial contractility after leukotriene C4 and D4 administration were demonstrated in the isolated guinea pig heart. To explore the effects of leukotrienes in the in situ, blood-perfused heart, we administered leukotrienes C4, D4, and E4 into the coronary artery of the domestic pig. Increasing doses (0.1, 0.3, 1.0, and 3.0 micrograms) of leukotrienes C4, D4, and E4 were injected into the left anterior descending coronary artery of 8 open-chest domestic pigs. Significant dose-related reduction in coronary blood flow was observed after each leukotriene administration. Three micrograms of each leukotriene produced the following maximal decreases (mean +/- standard error); C4 = 80 +/- 9%, p less than 0.001; D4 = 81 +/- 3%, p less than 0.001; E4 = 64 +/- 12%, p less than 0.005. In several instances, surface electrograms recorded from the myocardial region exposed to leukotrienes showed signs of focal myocardial ischemia, sometimes accompanied by ventricular arrhythmia. Significant elevation of left ventricular end-diastolic pressure was observed after large doses (1 or 3 micrograms) of leukotrienes C4 and D4. Minimal (5 to 10%) decreases in mean arterial pressure and no change in heart rate were observed after leukotriene injection. We conclude that leukotrienes C4, D4, and E4 are extremely potent coronary constrictors in the in situ heart. The intensity of response and associated electrocardiographic signs of ischemia suggest that constriction is mainly due to a primary effect on vascular smooth muscle. However, coronary flow reduction may also reflect consequences of a primary negative inotropic action. Leukotrienes may play a significant role in the pathogenesis of a variety of cardiac disorders, particularly those associated with extensive inflammatory changes.