The histology of coronary arteries was compared in patients with rest and effort angina. The arteries came from six patients with three vessel disease who died within four weeks of arteriography and ambulatory ST segment monitoring. Sections of all macroscopically visible arteries were taken every 5 mm and examined histologically. Episodes of ST segment depression had occurred on exertion in two patients, during exertion and rest (nocturnal) in two, and two patients had had no episodes of ST segment depression during ambulatory monitoring. Concentric (29%) or eccentric (62%) intimal thickening due to atheroma or fibroelastic tissue was found in 91% of sections. All but two normal intimal sections (1%) were found to be diseased in patients with ambulatory ST segment changes. Eccentric lesions with medial smooth muscle preservation in areas without intimal thickening, where further luminal narrowing could occur due to increases in smooth muscle tone, were found in 15% of sections. But these areas were not found in the proximal 3.5 cm of any of the major coronary arteries of the two patients with rest and effort ischaemia. Spasm could not have caused total occlusion in any of these arteries because the lumen was splinted by the lesion. There was no difference in mean luminal narrowing between patients with exertional and rest ischaemia and exertional ischaemia only (mean 74%), but mean luminal narrowing was lower in patients with no ambulatory episodes of ST segment change (39%). Thus medial smooth muscle spasm was unlikely to have caused occlusion in patients with ambulatory ST segment changes, although it could have altered lumen diameter. There are no histological differences in the coronary arteries of patients with rest or effort induced myocardial ischaemia.