This study analyzed the regional pattern of right ventricular (RV) dysfunction on transthoracic echocardiograms in patients with and without acute pulmonary embolism. Quantitative (centerline) and qualitative (wall motion score) analyses of segmental RV free wall motion were performed on a "training" cohort of 41 patients (group 1), including 14 patients with acute pulmonary embolism, 9 patients with primary pulmonary hypertension, and 18 normal subjects. Patients with acute pulmonary embolism had a distinct regional pattern of RV dysfunction, with akinesia of the mid-free wall (centerline excursion: -0.2 +/- 0.8 mm, p = 0.0001 vs normal) but normal motion at the apex (centerline excursion: 5.7 +/- 0.8 mm, p = NS vs normal). In contrast, patients with primary pulmonary hypertension had abnormal wall motion in all regions (p <0.03 vs normal). This echocardiographic finding of normal wall motion at the apex and abnormal wall motion in the mid-free wall in acute pulmonary embolism was then tested in a "validation" cohort of 85 patients (group 2), consisting of hospitalized patients with RV dysfunction from any cause, including 13 patients with acute pulmonary embolism. The finding had a 77% sensitivity and a 94% specificity for the diagnosis of acute pulmonary embolism, with a positive predictive value of 71% and a negative predictive value of 96%. Thus, a distinct echocardiographic pattern of regional RV dysfunction, in which the apex is spared occurs in acute pulmonary embolism. This finding should raise the level of clinical suspicion for the diagnosis of acute pulmonary embolism.