OBJECTIVES--To determine whether an increase in cardiac sympathetic activity produced by exercise or sublingual glyceryl trinitrate causes an increased rate of loss of fluorine-18 from the myocardium after intravenous [18F]6-fluorodopamine ([18F]F-DA) in normal volunteers. In addition, to determine the contribution of non-specific uptake of [18F]F-DA in the myocardium in patients with recent heart transplant. PROTOCOL--[18F]F was prepared by direct electrophilic fluorination of dopamine. Nine healthy volunteers each received 1.85 x 10(8) Bq (168-250 micrograms) [18F]F-DA over a period of 3 min and were scanned for 2 h in an ECAT 953/31 tomograph. Three controls were scanned before and after vigorous cycle exercise and two were scanned before and after sublingual glyceryl trinitrate. In addition, two patients (1 and 2 years post-heart transplant) underwent a myocardial perfusion study with ammonia labelled with nitrogen-13 followed by an [18F]F-DA study. RESULTS--There was intense uniform uptake of [18F]F-DA throughout the myocardium in the healthy volunteers. The time course of 18F in the myocardium under resting conditions fitted a biexponential function with mean half-times of 8.0 and 109 min. Vigorous exercise produced a three to fivefold increase in the rate of loss of 18F compared with that when resting. After glyceryl trinitrate, one control had a profound reduction in blood pressure (23%) and twofold increase in the rate of loss of myocardial 18F. The other control had no physiologically significant change in blood pressure, heart rate, or rate of loss of myocardial 18F. Uptake of [18F]F-DA in the two posttransplant patients was confined to a small anterobasal region adjacent to the atrioventricular groove, while blood flow, as measured with [13N] ammonia, was uniformly distributed throughout the myocardium. Partial reinnervation of the myocardium was confirmed by the presence of distinct low frequency spectral peaks of the heart rate power spectrum in both patients. CONCLUSIONS--These results suggest that the uptake of [18F]F-DA reflects the distribution of cardiac sympathetic innervation and that the rate of loss of 18F from the myocardium partially reflects spill over of noradrenaline. The technique may be useful in investigating various cardiac conditions in which the sympathetic system is compromised.