To evaluate the usefulness of the paramagnetic contrast agent Gadolinium-DTPA (diethylenetriaminepentaacetic acid) in Magnetic Resonance Imaging of acute myocardial infarction, we studied a total of 45 patients with a first acute myocardial infarction by ECG-gated magnetic resonance imaging before and after intravenous administration of 0.1 mmol/kg Gadolinium-DTPA. All patients received thrombolytic treatment by intravenous streptokinase. The magnetic resonance imaging studies were performed after a mean of 88 h (range 15-241) after the acute onset of acute myocardial infarction. Five patients without evidence of cardiac disease served as controls. Spin-echo measurements (TE 30 ms) were made using a Philips Gyroscan (0.5 Tesla) or a Teslacon II (0.6 Tesla). The 45 patients were divided into four groups of patients. In Group I (5 patients) Gadolinium-DTPA improved the detection of myocardial infarction by Gadolinium-DTPA. In Group II (20 patients) the magnetic resonance imaging procedure was repeated every 10 min for up to 40 min following administration of Gadolinium-DTPA. Optimal contrast enhancement was obtained 20-25 min after Gadolinium-DTPA. In Group III (27 patients) signal intensities were significantly higher in the patients who underwent the magnetic resonance imaging study more than 72 h (mean 120) after the acute event, suggesting increased accumulation of Gadolinium-DTPA in a more advanced stage of the infarction process. In Group IV (45 patients) Gadolinium-DTPA was administered in an attempt to distinguish between reperfused and nonreperfused myocardial areas after thrombolytic treatment for acute myocardial infarction. The signal intensities did not differ, but reperfused areas showed a more homogeneous aspect whereas nonreperfused areas were visualized as a more heterogeneous contrast enhancement. It is concluded that magnetic resonance imaging using the contrast agent Gadolinium-DTPA significantly improves the detection of infarcted myocardial areas and may be of particular value in patients with acute myocardial infarction who undergo reperfusion therapy.