The internal mammary artery has greater long-term patency than the saphenous vein when used for coronary bypass grafting. Therefore, bilateral use of the internal mammary artery for grafting with the right internal mammary artery used as a "free" graft may result in improved graft survival. The study objectives were to compare the endothelial-dependent and -independent vasodilatory response in free and pedicled internal mammary artery grafts in patients who had previously undergone coronary surgery. Free (group 1, n = 8) and pedicled (group 2, n = 7) internal mammary artery grafts were studied by comparing the response to selective infusion of the endothelial-dependent vasodilator substance P (1.4 up to 22.4 pmol/min in doubling dose increments) followed by isosorbide dinitrate (2 mg over 2 minutes), in patients undergoing coronary angiography, 1 month to 6 years after coronary surgery. Maximal dilatory response to substance P was 8.7% +/- 1.8% in pedicled grafts compared with 8.8% +/- 2.3% in free grafts (p = not significant), with the dose response for both groups being similar. Infusion of isosorbide dinitrate produced only minimal further dilatation in both groups. No significant difference was found in endothelium-dependent and -independent vasodilatory response between free and pedicled internal mammary artery grafts, suggesting that the use of the free right internal mammary artery and other arterial grafts may enhance graft survival.