OBJECTIVES: This study evaluated the hypothesis that impaired nitroglycerin (NTG)-induced coronary vasodilation is associated with advanced coronary atherosclerosis in asymptomatic older patients. BACKGROUND: Atherosclerosis is associated with both structural and functional abnormalities of the vessel wall. Noninvasive functional measures of subclinical coronary atherosclerosis may help characterize high-risk subjects and guide preventive therapy. METHODS: A total of 236 older patients (age 60 to 72 years, 33% female) without a history of cardiovascular disease were studied. Nitroglycerin-induced coronary vasodilation was measured by magnetic resonance angiography (MRA). Cross-sectional images of the right coronary artery were acquired before and 5 min after 0.4-mg sublingual NTG using a gated, breath-held spiral coronary MRA sequence (0.7-mm resolution). Quantitative analysis of the increase in cross-sectional area was performed in the 90% of patients (n = 212) with adequate image quality. Quantitation of coronary artery calcification (CAC) was performed by multidetector computed tomography using the Agatston method. RESULTS: Forty patients (19%) had advanced CAC (> or =400). Coronary vasodilation to NTG was significantly impaired (p = 0.02) in patients with advanced CAC (median [interquartile range] = 15.9% [4.2% to 28.0%] vs. 21.5% [9.6% to 36.6%] for CAC <400). Importantly, NTG-induced coronary vasodilation remained independently associated with advanced CAC after multivariate analysis incorporating risk factors (p = 0.02) and other potential confounders (p = 0.04). There was no significant difference in coronary vasodilation between men and women, but few women (n = 3) had advanced CAC. CONCLUSIONS: Impaired NTG-induced coronary vasodilation by MRA is associated with advanced coronary atherosclerosis in a community-based cohort of older asymptomatic subjects. Coronary MRA may provide a noninvasive functional assessment of subclinical coronary atherosclerosis.