The behavior of myocardial blood flow (MBF) regulation in territories supplied by angiographically normal vessels of patients with coronary artery disease (CAD) has been poorly investigated. Resting MBF and coronary reserve were evaluated in 32 patients with stable angina, no previous myocardial infarction, and isolated left anterior descending or left circumflex coronary artery stenosis (> or = 50% diameter narrowing). MBF was measured, in the absence of any medical therapy, by means of dynamic positron emission tomography and 13N-ammonia. MBF measurements at baseline and after intravenous dipyridamole (0.56 mg/kg administered over 4 minutes), were obtained both in the stenosis-related regions and in contralateral territories. As a control group, 14 normal subjects were evaluated according to the same protocol. At rest, the 32 patients with CAD had similar MBF values in the stenotic and remote regions (0.76 +/- 0.21 and 0.77 +/- 0.19 ml/min/g, respectively, p = NS); both these values were significantly (p < 0.01) reduced with respect to mean MBF in normal subjects (1.03 +/- 0.25 ml/min/g). The dipyridamole study was completed in 30 patients; these patients had lower values of maximal MBF in the stenotic than in the remote regions (1.52 +/- 0.65 vs 1.76 +/- 0.68 ml/min/g, p < 0.05); however, both these values were significantly reduced (p < 0.01) with respect to mean dipyridamole MBF in normal subjects (3.66 +/- 0.92 ml/min/g). Thus, in patients with CAD, resting and maximal MBF can be reduced not only in myocardial territories supplied by stenotic arteries, but also in territories supplied by angiographically normal arteries.