Heart-type fatty acid-binding protein (H-FABP) is a low molecular weight cytoplasmic protein and present abundantly in the myocardium. When the myocardium is injured, as in the case of myocardial infarction, low molecular weight cytoplasmic proteins including H-FABP are released into the circulation and H-FABP is detectable in a blood sample. We have already developed a direct sandwich-ELISA for quantification of human H-FABP using two distinct types of monoclonal antibodies specific for human H-FABP. In this study we investigated the clinical validity of H-FABP as a biochemical diagnostic marker in the early phase of acute myocardial infarction (AMI). To evaluate the diagnostic usefulness of H-FABP in the early phase of AMI, blood samples were obtained from the following patients within 12 hours after the appearance of symptoms, and serum levels of H-FABP were compared with those of conventional diagnostic markers, such as myoglobin and creatine kinase isoenzyme MB (CK-MB). Blood samples were collected from patients with confirmed AMI (n=140), patients with chest pain who were afterwards not classified as AMI by normal CK-MB levels (non-AMI) (n=49) and normal healthy volunteers (n=75). The serum concentration of H-FABP was quantified with our direct sandwich-ELISA. The concentration of myoglobin mass was measured with a commercial RIA kit. The serum CK-MB activity was determined with an immuno-inhibition assay kit. The overall sensitivity of H-FABP, within 12 hours after the appearance of symptoms, was 92.9%, while it was 88.6% with myoglobin and 18.6% with CK-MB. The overall specificity of H-FABP was 67.3%, while it was 57.1% with myoglobin and 98.0% with CK-MB. The diagnostic efficacy rates with these markers were 86.2% (H-FABP), 80.4% (myoglobin) and 39.2% (CK-MB), respectively. The diagnostic validity of H-FABP was further assessed by receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curve analysis. The area under the curve (AUC) of H-FABP was 0.921, which was significantly greater than with myoglobin (AUC: 0.843) and CK-MB (AUC: 0.654). These parameters, such as sensitivity, specificity, diagnostic efficacy and diagnostic accuracy, obtained for patients with chest pain within 3 hours and/or 6 hours after the onset of symptoms were almost the same as those for patients within 12 hours after symptoms. H-FABP is more sensitive than both myoglobin and CK-MB, more specific than myoglobin for detecting AMI within 12 hours after the onset of symptoms, and shows the highest values for both diagnostic efficacy and ROC curve analysis. Thus, H-FABP has great potential as an excellent biochemical cardiac marker for the diagnosis of AMI in the early phase.