Endogenous modulators of platelet aggregability and vascular tone may play a part in coronary-artery disease. We therefore measured the release of prostaglandins and thromboxane into the coronary circulation in patients with various kinds of cardiac disease. Simultaneous coronary-sinus (CS) and ascending-aortic (AO) blood samples were obtained from 60 patients for measurement of 6-ketoprostaglandin F1 alpha (6-keto-PGF1 alpha, a prostaglandin I2 metabolite) and of thromboxane B2 (TxB2). Samples from 45 of these patients were also tested for prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) and lactate. Patients with unstable angina pectoris who reported chest pain within 24 hours of study had higher TxB2 CS/AO ratios (5.8 +/- 2.8, mean +/- S.D.) than patients whose most recent anginal pain was more than 96 hours before study (1.3 +/- 0.6; P less than 0.05), than those with nonischemic chest pain (1.2 +/- 0.4; P less than 0.05), or with valvular or congenital nonischemic heart disease (1.2 +/- 0.6; P less than 0.05). Those whose most recent anginal pain occurred 24 to 96 hours before study were distributed bimodally: the majority had low TxB2 CS/AO ratios (range, 0.5 to 2.1) like the patients in the three aforementioned groups, whereas a few had markedly elevated values (range, 10.5 to 46.6). The 6-keto-PGF1 alpha and PGE2 CS/AO ratios and myocardial lactate extraction were not significantly different among the five groups. These data suggest that local thromboxane release is associated with recent episodes of angina in patients with unstable angina pectoris, but whether this release is a cause or an effect is not yet known.