Echocardiographic analysis of regional left ventricular function is based upon the assessment of radial motion. Long-axis motion is an important contributor to overall function, but has been difficult to evaluate clinically until the recent development of tissue Doppler techniques. We sought to compare the standard visual assessment of radial motion with quantitative tissue Doppler measurement of peak systolic velocity, timing and strain rate (SRI) in 104 patients with known or suspected coronary artery disease undergoing dobutamine stress echocardiography (DbE). A standard DbE protocol was used with colour tissue Doppler images acquired in digital ciné-loop format. Peak systolic velocity (PSV), time to peak velocity (TPV) and SRI were assessed off-line by an independent operator. Wall motion was assessed by an experienced reader. Mean PSV, TPV and SRI values were compared with wall motion and the presence of coronary artery disease by angiography. A further analysis included assessing the extent of jeopardized myocardium by comparing average values of PSV, TPV and SRI against the previously validated angiographic score. Segments identified as having normal and abnormal radial wall motion showed significant differences in mean PSV (7.9 +/- 3.8 and 5.9 +/- 3.3 cm/s respectively; P < 0.001), TPV (84 +/- 40 and 95 +/- 48 ms respectively; P = 0.005) and SRI (-1.45 +/- 0.5 and -1.1 +/- 0.9 s(-1) respectively; P < 0.001). The presence of a stenosed subtending coronary artery was also associated with significant differences from normally perfused segments for mean PSV (8.1+/-3.4 compared with 5.7+/-3.7 cm/s; P < 0.001), TPV (78 +/- 50 compared with 92 +/- 45 ms; P < 0.001) and SRI (-1.35 +/- 0.5 compared with -1.20 +/- 0.4 s(-1); P = 0.05). PSV, TPV and SRI also varied significantly according to the extent of jeopardized myocardium within a vascular territory. These results suggest that peak systolic velocity, timing of contraction and SRI reflect the underlying physiological characteristics of the regional myocardium during DbE, and may potentially allow objective analysis of wall motion.