Patients with failure of infarct-related artery recanalization after thrombolytic therapy have a poor clinical outcome. These patients have been considered for rescue angioplasty 90 min after thrombolytic therapy at the time of emergency catheterization in the course of five Thrombolysis and Angioplasty in Myocardial Infarction (TAMI) trials. The outcome of 776 patients with patent infarct-related vessels after emergency catheterization was analyzed--607 with thrombolysis-mediated patency of the infarct-related vessel and 169 with patency achieved by angioplasty. Baseline characteristics of the thrombolysis and angioplasty patency groups were similar except for a higher acute left ventricular ejection fraction (51.3% versus 48.2%) in the thrombolysis group (p = 0.003). Seven to 10 day left ventricular ejection fraction was higher (52.3% versus 48.1%), infarct zone functional recovery was greater (0.44 versus 0.21 standard deviation/chord, or 18% versus 7%, p = 0.001) and reocclusion was less (11% versus 21%) in the thrombolysis compared with the angioplasty group. Despite these differences, angioplasty patency was associated with the same low in-hospital mortality rate (5.9% versus 4.6%) and long-term mortality rate (3% versus 2%) as thrombolysis patency. Reocclusion adversely affected the mortality rate and ventricular functional recovery. Technical failure of rescue angioplasty was associated with a much higher mortality rate than was technical success (39.1% versus 5.9%). Thrombolysis patency was preferable to angioplasty patency after thrombolytic therapy in acute myocardial infarction, but both were associated with the same low in-hospital and long-term mortality rates, suggesting that rescue angioplasty is beneficial in some patients with failure of infarct-related artery recanalization after thrombolytic therapy.