Forty-five patients with acute transmural myocardial infarction and angiographically confirmed complete coronary occlusion were prospectively randomized, two for one, to treatment of acute coronary thrombosis with intravenous recombinant human tissue-type plasminogen activator (rt-PA) or placebo. Each of five additional consecutive patients was treated with a high dose of rt-PA for 2 hr. Twenty-five of 33 patients (75%) receiving 0.5 to 0.75 mg/kg of rt-PA over 30 to 120 min had angiographically proven recanalization within 90 min of initiation of therapy. Only one of 14 patients given placebo had spontaneous recanalization within 45 min (p less than .001). Thirteen placebo-treated patients were crossed over to the intracoronary rt-PA group. Nine (69%) exhibited subsequent recanalization within 45 min. Levels of circulating fibrinogen decreased after treatment with rt-PA by an average of only 8% of baseline values. None of the patients manifested a depletion of fibrinogen level to below 100 mg/dl. Six patients who were completely unresponsive to rt-PA were subsequently treated with intracoronary streptokinase and none responded. Thus, either intravenous or intracoronary rt-PA induced coronary thrombolysis without eliciting clinically significant fibrinogenolysis in patients with evolving myocardial infarction due to thrombotic coronary occlusion.