We previously demonstrated in experimental studies that myocardial oxygen consumption (MVO2) can be estimated noninvasively with positron emission tomography (PET) from analysis of the myocardial turnover rate constant (k) after administration of carbon-11 (11C) acetate. To determine regional k in healthy human subjects and to estimate alterations in MVO2 accompanying myocardial ischemia, we administered [11C]acetate to five healthy human volunteers and to six patients with myocardial infarction. Extraction of [11C]acetate by the myocardium was avid and clearance from the blood-pool rapid yielding myocardial images of excellent quality. Regional k was homogeneous in myocardium of healthy volunteers (coefficient variation = 11%). In patients, k in regions remote from the area of infarction was not different from values in myocardium of healthy human volunteers (0.061 +/- 0.025 compared with 0.057 +/- 0.008 min-1). In contrast, MVO2 in the center of the infarct region was only 6% of that in remote regions (p less than 0.01). In four patients studied within 48 hr of infarction and again more than seven days after the acute event, regional k and MVO2 did not change. The approach developed should facilitate evaluation of the efficacy of interventions designed to enhance recovery of jeopardized myocardium and permit estimation of regional MVO2 and metabolic reserve underlying cardiac disease of diverse etiologies.