OBJECTIVES: The goal of this study was to investigate the presence of myocardial cell damage in patients with systemic hypertension and its relationship with left ventricular hypertrophy (LVH). BACKGROUND: Although initially compensatory, LVH adversely affects myocellular integrity and contributes to congestive heart failure in hypertensive patients. Noninvasive detection of myocardial damage can be of value. METHODS: We performed imaging studies with 111In-labeled monoclonal antimyosin antibodies to identify myocardial damage in 39 patients with systemic hypertension and variable degrees of LVH. Three groups were considered: 16 asymptomatic patients with normal echocardiographic left ventricular mass (LVM) (group I); 14 asymptomatic patients with LVH (group II) and 9 patients with symptomatic hypertensive heart disease and advanced LVH (group III). The severity of myocardial damage was represented as heart-to-lung (target-to-background) antibody uptake ratio (normal: <1.55). RESULTS: Mean LVM index was 105 ± 14 g/m2 in group I, 124 ± 24 in group II and 174 ± 29 in group III. Heart-to-lung ratios of antimyosin uptake were: 1.45 ± 0.14 in group I, 4 of the 16 (25%) patients showing an abnormal scan; 1.50 ± 0.07 in group II with abnormal scans in 2 of the 14 (16%) patients and 1.77 ± 0.16 (p < 0.001) in group III, all 9 patients presenting with abnormal antimyosin scans. On multivariate regression analysis LVM index was the main variable that independently correlated with the degree of myocardial uptake of antimyosin (r = 0.815; p = 0.001). CONCLUSIONS: This study provides the first in vivo evidence of myocyte damage in patients with hypertension. The severity of myocardial damage can be related to the magnitude of LVH. (C) 2000 by the American College of Cardiology.