Coronary arterial thrombolysis is becoming an established treatment of acute myocardial infarction. If given early enough, it recanalises occluded coronary arteries, salvages myocardial function and reduces mortality. A reduction of mortality in patients with acute myocardial infarction has now been demonstrated for streptokinase, anisoylated plasminogen streptokinase activator complex (APSAC; anistreplase) and recombinant tissue-type plasminogen activator (rt-PA). From the biochemical point of view, rt-PA has several attractive properties. It is similar to or identical with the physiological plasminogen activator in blood, it does not induce an antibody response, and it is more fibrin-specific than most or all other currently known thrombolytic agents. The rate of recanalisation of occluded coronary arteries with rt-PA is about 60 to 80% in non-comparative and placebo-controlled trials. rt-PA was similar in efficacy to urokinase in the only trial to compare the 2 agents. In 2 comparative trials evaluated by meta-analysis, rt-PA appeared more effective than streptokinase for the early recanalisation of occluded arteries. Both agents were comparable in their effects on left ventricular function in 2 comparative trials, but further study is needed to conclusively evaluate this parameter. Moreover, both agents reduce inhospital mortality, but much larger direct comparative trials are required before scientifically valid statements can be made on the relative clinical efficacy of available thrombolytic agents in terms of their effects on both morbidity and mortality. Thus, rt-PA constitutes a notable contribution of recombinant DNA technology to the treatment of thromboembolic disease, the main cause of death and disability in Western societies.