OBJECTIVE: To examine the vasoconstrictor response to ergonovine and the vasodilator response to isosorbide dinitrate in spastic and non-spastic coronary segments from 31 patients undergoing serial angiographic follow up of variant angina. METHODS: Coronary angiograms and ergonovine provocation tests were repeated at an interval of 45 (SD 15) months apart. While all 31 patients showed a positive response to ergonovine initially, vasospastic responsiveness persisted in only 16 patients at follow up (group 1) and not in the other 15 patients in whom symptoms of variant angina had resolved (group 2). Mean luminal diameter of 170 normal or near normal entire coronary segments (American Heart Association classification) were measured (a) at baseline, (b) after the administration of ergonovine, and (c) after the administration of isosorbide dinitrate, during both the initial and follow up angiograms using a computer based quantitative angiography analysis system (CAAS II). RESULTS: In vasospastic patients (initial and follow up angiograms in group 1, and initial angiogram in group 2), basal tone was significantly higher in spastic segments compared to adjacent segments or segments in non-spastic vessels. The diagnostic sensitivity and specificity at 20% increase in basal coronary tone for the prediction of vasospasm were 77% and 73%, respectively. CONCLUSIONS: Coronary artery tone may change in proportion to the activity of variant angina over several years. Contrary to some previous reports, the estimation of basal coronary tone may be useful in the assessment of vasospastic activity in patients with variant angina.