Two-dimensional echocardiography and gated radionuclide ventriculography were performed in 93 patients (66 men, 27 women; mean age 61 years) with 95 episodes of acute myocardial infarction within 48 hours and at 10 days after infarction. Electrocardiographic sites of infarction were: 35 anterior, 49 inferoposterior and 11 nonlocalized. Abnormal motion of the anterior wall, septum or apex was seen in 97 and 100% of anterior infarctions by radionuclide ventriculography and echocardiography, respectively. Abnormal motion of an inferior or posterior wall segment was seen in 91% of inferoposterior infarctions by echocardiography versus 61% seen by radionuclide ventriculography. Ejection fractions determined by echocardiography and radionuclide ventriculography correlated well (r = 0.82) and did not change from the first 48 hours to 10 days after infarction (0.48 +/- 0.14). Similarly, wall motion score showed minimal change from the first 48 hours to 10 days. In-hospital mortality was 37 and 42% in patients with an ejection fraction of 0.35 or less by echocardiography and radionuclide ventriculography, respectively. No mortality was seen in patients with an ejection fraction above 0.40 by either test. The echocardiographic wall motion score was also predictive of mortality (40 versus 2%; score less than or equal to 0.50 versus greater than 0.50). The 1 year mortality rate in the 81 short-term survivors was 17%. Mortality was lowest in patients with an ejection fraction above 0.49 or wall motion score above (0.79 (2 to 5%) and worse in those with an ejection fraction below 0.36 or wall motion score below 0.51 (36 to 63%) by either technique. Thus in acute myocardial infarction, echocardiography and radionuclide ventriculography provide a comparable assessment of left ventricular function and wall motion in anterior infarction. Echocardiography appears more sensitive in detecting inferoposterior wall motion abnormalities. Both techniques are capable of identifying subgroups of patients with a high risk of death during the acute event and with an equally high mortality rate over a 1 year follow-up period.