To compare the diagnostic value of dobutamine stress echocardiography with dobutamine thallium-201 single-photon-emission computed tomography (SPECT) in detecting coronary artery disease, we performed both tests simultaneously on 93 patients who also underwent coronary arteriography. Dobutamine was infused at rates of 5, 10, 20, 30 and 40 microns/kg/min in 3-min stages. The left ventricle was divided into anteroseptal, posterolateral and inferior regions. Within each region, wall motion or perfusion abnormalities were classified as normal, ischemia or fixed defect. The response to stress was concordantly classified by both tests in 67 patients (72%, kappa = 0.48). Regional agreement for abnormalities was observed in 79% (kappa = 0.56) of the 279 regions analyzed. Dobutamine echocardiography detected 62 (93%) and thallium SPECT 60 (90%, p = NS) of the 67 patients with significant coronary artery disease (> or = 50% diameter stenosis). The specificity was 77 (20 of 26) and 81% (21 of 26), respectively. The accuracy was 88 and 87%, respectively. Combined the two tests gave a sensitivity of 97%, a specificity of 65% and an accuracy of 88%. The accuracy for detecting individual coronary stenosis with echocardiography was 83% for the left anterior descending artery, 84% for the right coronary artery and 73% for the left circumflex artery. With SPECT, it was 83, 87 and and 76%, respectively. In conclusion, dobutamine stress echocardiography and thallium SPECT provide a comparable accuracy for detection and localization of coronary artery disease, and for identification of regional myocardial abnormalities. Performing the two tests simultaneous is feasible but it adds limited value in detecting coronary artery disease.