Recent work has now clearly established that coronary arterial thrombosis is the direct cause of acute myocardial infarction. This thrombotic event occurs when a pre-existing atherosclerotic plaque ruptures or fissures, thereby exposing underlying thrombogenic material to the circulation. Platelets are thus activated and the clotting cascade is initiated. It is as yet unclear why a previously stable atherosclerotic plaque should fissure or rupture. However, suggested mechanisms include release of vasoactive substances from activated platelets, coronary arterial vasomotion, mechanical stress fatigue of the atherosclerotic plaque, and rupture of vasa vasorum within the atherosclerotic plaque. The resultant cessation of myocardial blood flow produces specific biochemical and physiological alterations secondary to myocardial ischemia. Intracellular acidosis, loss of high-energy phosphates, reduced sensitivity of contractile proteins to calcium, and accumulation of inorganic phosphate and lipid, all occur within the ischemic myocyte. Diastolic compliance is markedly reduced by ischemia followed by cessation of systolic contractile activity. Most of these alterations are reversible if ischemia is relieved promptly. Prolonged ischemia leads to delayed biochemical and physiological recovery and/or cell necrosis.