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To determine whether significant regional differences in shortening exist in the canine left ventricle, the shortening characteristics of small segments of the circumferentially oriented hoop axis fibers and the more longitudinally oriented fibers near the epicardium were examined using pairs of ultrasound crystals placed at three levels of the left ventricular free wall in the open-chest dog. Mean control shortening of the hoop axis fibers near the apex of the left ventricle averaged 20% of the end-diastolic length, significantly greater than shortening at the midventricular (13%) or basal (14%) levels. During transient periods of aortic constriction, end-diastolic length increased significantly and the extent of shortening was maintained for the hoop axis fibers at the apical and midventricular levels; end-diastolic length did not change and shortening decreased at the basal level. The epicardial fibers shortened an average of 5.6% of their end-diastolic length during control conditions at all three sites and showed small, parallel changes in shortening and end-diastolic length during aortic constriction. We conclude that significantly greater hoop axis shortening occurs near the apex of the left ventricle and that at this level a uniformly contracting model is inappropriate. In addition, the response of the hoop axis fibers to increased aortic impedance is not homogeneous, with a significant reduction in shortening occurring only at the base of the left ventricle where end-diastolic length does not increase.