Interventricular septal motion during ventricular diastole was analyzed using M-mode echocardiography in 13 patients with constrictive pericarditis and 12 patients with restrictive cardiomyopathy. In seven of eight patients with constrictive pericarditis in sinus rhythm, an abnormal "atrial systolic" notch was observed consisting of abrupt initial posterior motion toward the left ventricle approximately at the middle of the P wave and subsequent anterior motion at the end of the P wave and termination before the R wave. This notch was absent during atrial premature beats that were recorded in two patients. The atrial systolic notch was not observed in any patient with restrictive cardiomyopathy. The septal notch in early ventricular diastole previously described in constrictive pericarditis was seen in 62% of patients with constrictive pericarditis and 25% of patients with restrictive cardiomyopathy. Thus, an abnormal atrial systolic notch may be an additional useful sign to differentiate constrictive pericarditis from restrictive cardiomyopathy. The mechanism may be related to transient late diastolic pressure gradients between both ventricles resulting from asynchrony of left and right atrial contractions.