We sought to define the effects of short-term beta-adrenergic blocking medication on intracoronary flow characteristics, clinical symptoms and angiographic diameter changes in patients with severe myocardial bridging of the left anterior descending coronary artery. Controversy exists regarding the pathophysiology, clinical relevance and optimal therapy in symptomatic patients with myocardial bridges because antianginal drugs have not been systematically tested. In 15 symptomatic patients with myocardial bridging of the left anterior descending coronary artery, maximal lumen diameter reductions were evaluated by quantitative coronary angiography. There were no angiographic signs of coronary artery disease. Coronary blood flow velocities (using a 0.014-in. [0.035 cm] Doppler guide wire) were measured at rest, during atrial pacing and during intravenous administration of a short-acting beta-blocker (esmolol, 50 to 500 micrograms/kg body weight per min) with continuous atrial pacing. The maximal angiographic systolic lumen diameter reduction within the myocardial bridges was 83 +/- 9% at rest, with a persistent diastolic diameter reduction of 41 +/- 11% (mean +/- SD). Short-term intravenous beta-blocker therapy decreased the diameter reduction during both systole (from 83 +/- 9% to 62 +/- 11%) and diastole (from 41 +/- 11% to 30 +/- 9%, both p < 0.001). The average diastolic peak flow velocity was higher within the myocardial bridges (33 +/- 13 cm/s) than the proximal (26 +/- 13 cm/s) and distal bridges (17 +/- 4 cm/s, both p < 0.001). During tachypacing, average diastolic peak flow velocity increased within the bridged segments to 63 +/- 21 cm/s versus 29 +/- 12 cm/s in the proximal and 20 +/- 4 cm/s in the distal bridges (both p < 0.001). Beta-receptor blockade produced a return to baseline values (average diastolic peak flow velocity within bridge 35 +/- 16 cm/s, p < 0.001). ST segment changes and symptoms were abolished with beta-blocker administration. In patients with myocardial bridges, administration of short-acting beta-blockers during atrial pacing alleviates anginal symptoms and signs of ischemia. This effect was mediated by a reduction of vascular compression and maximal flow velocities within the bridged coronary artery segment.