Left ventricular catecholamine and plasma norepinephrine levels were assayed in 39 patients undergoing cardiac transplantation to test the hypothesis that in congestive heart failure (CHF) the normally high concentration of myocardial norepinephrine is depleted while dopamine is increased because dopamine conversion to norepinephrine is the rate-limiting step in norepinephrine synthesis. Plasma norepinephrine was elevated in all patients (average 741 ± 472 μg/ml), but myocardial norepinephrine was variable, ranging from 79 to 2,127 ng/g (average 512 ± 392). Myocardial dopamine also varied considerably (range 0 to 713 ng/g, average 143 ± 150). Nineteen patients had the expected pattern of low cardiac norepinephrine and elevated dopamine levels. However, myocardial catecholamine levels were normal (high norepinephrine, low dopamine) in 7 patients; both norepinephrine and dopamine were low in 6 patients; and norepinephrine levels were preserved but dopamine high in 7 patients. Cardiac norepinephrine level correlated only weakly with peripheral vascular resistance (r = 0.39, p <0.05), and examination of multiple other variables failed to reveal likely causes of the differences in cardiac norepinephrine and dopamine between patients. Thus, myocardial norepinephrine is not uniformly reduced in patients with severe CHF, and further attempts to delineate the factors regulating myocardial catecholamine concentration and adrenergic function in such patients are needed.