Using digital subtraction angiography, left ventriculograms were obtained with 10 ml of iodinated contrast material in 21 patients both at rest and during atrial pacing. In 15 patients with significant coronary artery lesions (CAD) (greater than 50% diameter narrowing in at least 1 major artery), ejection fraction decreased during atrial pacing from a mean of 62 +/- 14% to 51 +/- 15% (p less than 0.001). In 14 (93%) of 15 patients, ejection fraction decreased or was unchanged during pacing. In 6 patients with chest pain but normal coronary arteries, ejection fraction increased from a mean of 66 +/- 9% at rest to 72 +/- 6% during atrial pacing (p less than 0.01). Ejection fraction increased by greater than or equal to 5% during pacing in 5 of 6 patients with normal coronary arteries. Patients with CAD also had an abnormal response in end-systolic volume during atrial pacing (50 +/- 31 ml at rest versus 47 +/- 24 ml during pacing) compared with patients with normal coronary arteries (46 +/- 16 ml at rest versus 26 +/- 9 ml during pacing; p less than 0.01). The digital ventriculograms demonstrated new or increased wall motion abnormalities during atrial pacing in 4 of 5 patients with CAD who had wall motion abnormalities at rest and in 8 of 10 patients with CAD who had normal wall motion at rest. Moreover, these wall motion abnormalities occurred in myocardial wall segments that were supplied by coronary arteries with significant lesions. Thus, because digital subtraction angiography allows multiple left ventriculograms to be obtained during routine cardiac catheterization, intervention studies such as atrial pacing can be used to obtain a functional assessment of the severity of coronary arterial lesions.