PURPOSE: Assessing myocardial viability is crucial in decision making and prognostic restratification after acute myocardial infarction (MI). A number of noninvasive imaging modalities have been employed in viability identification, but contrast-enhanced magnetic resonance (MR) imaging has been shown to be extremely accurate because of its transmural resolution and precise definition of microvascular obstruction. Our purpose was to assess functional recovery after acute MI, with special focus on the role of infarct transmurality and microvascular obstruction. MATERIALS AND METHODS: Forty-six consecutive patients with first acute MI, reperfused by primary percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty (PTCA) (n=40) or fibrinolysis (n=6), underwent MR imaging within the first week to assess oedema, microvascular obstruction, function and viability and then again after 4-6 months to assess functional recovery and scar. RESULTS: At first MR examination, postcontrast images were analysed according to three patterns, based on a combination of first-pass and delayed-enhancement data: pattern 1 (normal first pass and late hyperenhancement <50% thickness) identified viable myocardium, whereas pattern 2 (late hyperenhancement >50% thickness, with or without first-pass perfusion defect) and pattern 3 (perfusion defect at first pass and late hypoenhancement) recognised nonviable myocardium, with 93% sensitivity, 75% specificity, 92% positive predictive value and 78% negative predictive value for identifying viable tissue. Furthermore, by dividing pattern 2 into two subpatterns, 2A and 2B, based on absence or presence of microvascular obstruction in >50% transmural infarcts, we were able to better identify the segments without recovery or that were nonviable with a 1.39 relative risk of failed recovery. CONCLUSIONS: After acute MI, not all infarcts with transmurality >50% can be considered nonviable; microvascular obstruction detected at first pass can help to better stratify these cases.