Although the anatomy, histology and pathology of human coronary arteries have been studied extensively, little is known about the functional relationship between vessel radius and wall thickness. It is the purpose of this study to present detailed measurements and to describe this relationship covering the range from the feeding coronary artery to the arterioles. Human hearts of 10 adults less than 36 +/- 3 years old were investigated immediately postmortem. Ten cubic tissue blocks, measuring about 10 mm in length on each side, were dissected from the left ventricular wall. After fixation by immersion, 15-microm sections were prepared and outer and inner perimeters of 52 arterial segments were digitalized. Vessel radius and wall thickness were calculated and plotted to show their relationship over the whole range of vessel calibers. Outer vessel radii ranged from 100 to 3,000 microm and wall thickness from 80 to 800 microm. Plotting the outer vessel radius against the wall thickness, the data points were found to cluster around a straight line. A significant correlation between the two parameters was found (R2 = 0.79). This mathematical correlation and the good agreement of the presented results with data from other species indicate a common physiologic concept.