Oxygen derived free radical generation can be shown in experimental models of myocardial ischaemia and reperfusion and may cause cellular damage by peroxidizing polyunsaturated membrane phospholipids. An attempt was made to quantify human intracardiac lipid peroxidation during transient myocardial ischaemia by measuring the aortic and coronary sinus concentrations of malondialdehyde (a marker of lipid peroxidation) before, during, and after incremental pacing. Twenty six patients were paced until they had severe chest pain or 2 mm ST segment depression or they reached a paced rate of 180 beats/min. They were divided into two groups according to whether or not lactate was produced during pacing. Twelve patients (group 1), all with coronary artery disease, produced myocardial lactate during pacing. None of the other 14 patients (group 2), half of whom had coronary disease, produced lactate during pacing. Concentrations of malondialdehyde in the aorta and coronary sinus were significantly higher in group 1 than in group 2. Five minutes after the end of pacing coronary sinus malondialdehyde concentrations in group 1 had increased significantly from baseline values. There were no changes with time in the coronary sinus concentration of malondialdehyde in group 2 or in the aorta in either group. The negative malondialdehyde extraction ratio in group 1 suggests that intracardiac lipid peroxidation occurs during transient human myocardial ischaemia.