The authors studied 35 normal subjects (41 +/- 6 years) and 22 patients with idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy 48 +/- 7 years; ejection fraction: 31 +/- 12%) in order to determine normal values of myocardial velocities and to demonstrate the sensitivity of Doppler tissue imaging in detecting a significant decrease in myocardial velocities in patients with abnormal left ventricular contractility. Interventricular septal and left ventricular posterior wall velocities were recorded by M mode long axis parasternal views. In normal subjects, a velocity gradient in the posterior wall was observed, higher in the endocardium than in epicardium, in systole (5.1 +/- 1.5 versus 2.8 +/- 1 cm/s, p < 0.01), and early diastole (13.7 +/- 3.5 versus 5.7 +/- 2 cm/s, p < 0.001) and late diastole at the time of atrial contraction (2.7 +/- 2.1 versus 1.8 +/- 1.7 cm/s, p < 0.01). Moreover, the velocities are higher in the posterior wall than in the interventricular septum throughout the cardiac cycle. Finally, the velocities are higher in early diastole than in systole, both in the interventricular septum and posterior wall. In the group of patients with idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy, the intramyocardial velocities were lower than in normal subjects. In addition, the velocity gradient in the posterior wall was absent in 15 of the 22 patients. The authors conclude that Doppler tissue imaging provides new information in the analysis of myocardial function both in systole and diastole.