Myocardial lactate metabolism and left ventricular function were studied in 12 patients during angioplasty of the left anterior descending artery performed with distal coronary perfusion (oxygenated and nonoxygenated Fluosol) and by conventional technique without distal perfusion. Before balloon inflation there was net lactate extraction by the heart (31 +/- 6%). During balloon inflations performed with distal perfusion there was net lactate release into the great cardiac vein while the balloon was inflated; the great cardiac vein lactate concentration was approximately 25% lower during perfusion with oxygenated versus nonoxygenated Fluosol (p less than 0.02) indicating less myocardial lactate release. After balloon deflation washout of lactate into the great cardiac vein (net myocardial release) was observed in all 3 protocols. Left ventricular ejection fraction measured by echocardiography decreased markedly during nonperfused (53 +/- 3 to 36 +/- 3%, p less than 0.001) and nonoxygenated Fluosol (52 +/- 2 to 30 +/- 3%, p less than 0.001) inflations. This dysfunction was largely prevented by oxygenated Fluosol where only a minimal decrease in ejection fraction (51 +/- 2 vs 48 +/- 2%, p less than 0.02) occurred. Analysis of regional contractile function yielded similar results. Although oxygenated perfluorocarbons decrease cardiac lactate release during angioplasty, this study provides evidence for the onset of lactate production even when ventricular function is preserved.