To determine the effects of coronary angioplasty on coronary flow reserve (CFR), we studied 32 patients before and immediately after single-vessel coronary angioplasty and 31 patients evaluated late after angioplasty (7.5 ± 1.2 months, mean ± SEM). The geometry (percent area stenosis and minimal cross-sectional area) of each lesion was determined by quantitative coronary angiography (Brown/Dodge method) and the integrated optical density was measured by videodensitometry. CFR was measured with a No. 3F coronary Doppler catheter placed immediately proximal to the lesion and a maximally vasodilating dose of intracoronary papaverine. The translesional pressure gradient was obtained in all lesions before and immediately after angioplasty and in 18 of 31 vessels late after angioplasty. CFR immediately after angioplasty returned to normal levels (> 3.5 peak/resting velocity ratio) in 14 of 31 patients and was improved, although not normalized, in the remaining 17 patients. CFR immediately after dilation was not significantly correlated with any of the angiographic variables of arterial stenosis nor the resting pressure gradient. Moreover, the pressure gradient and absolute distal coronary pressure at peak hyperemia were not significantly different in vessels with normal and those with abnormal flow reserve immediately after dilation, suggesting that the residual stenosis did not significantly limit hyperemia. Late after angioplasty, however, a significant relationship emerged between CFR an all four indexes of residual arterial stenosis (percent area stenosis r = .70, p < .01; minimum arterial cross-sectional area r = .70, p < .01; integrated optical density r = .60, p < .01; and translesional pressure gradient r = .77, p < .01). Furthermore, in the absence of restenosis, CFR eventually normalized in all patients. These findings demonstrate that in one-half of patients there is a transient reduction in coronary flow reserve immediately after angioplasty. In the absence of restenosis, coronary flow later normalizes. Consequently, measurements of coronary flow reserve immediately after angioplasty may not reflect the eventual success of the procedure in removing physiologic obstruction to coronary blood flow.