Hemodynamic and myocardial metabolic parameters in ischemic left ventricular (LV) dysfunction were evaluated in response to the beta-agonist prenalterol. Twenty micrograms/kg intravenous prenalterol increased resting heart rate and cardiac output and decreased LV filling pressure, systemic vascular resistance, and pulmonary artery pressure. Resting coronary blood flow and myocardial oxygen consumption increased but net myocardial lactate and oxygen extraction did not change significantly. During pacing induced tachycardia (121 +/- 4 beats/min), prenalterol improved cardiac index and stroke work index; whereas, LV filling pressure, systemic vascular resistance, and pulmonary artery pressure decreased. Coronary blood flow and myocardial oxygen extraction did not change significantly. Net myocardial lactate extraction during pacing decreased insignificantly; one patient developed overt lactate production. Thus, prenalterol improves cardiovascular function at rest and during pacing-induced tachycardia in ischemic LV failure, but at the cost of higher resting myocardial oxygen consumption. The majority of subjects had no adverse metabolic response.