BACKGROUND: Cardiac troponin T (cTnT) is widely used for the diagnosis of acute myocardial infarction (AMI). However, it is still unclear whether degraded cTnT forms circulate in the patient's blood. We therefore aimed to elucidate which cTnT forms are detected by the clinical assay. METHODS: Separation of cTnT forms by gel filtration chromatography (GFC) was performed in sera from 13 AMI patients to examine cTnT degradation. The GFC eluates were subjected to Western blot analysis with the original antibodies from the Roche immunoassay used to mimic the clinical cTnT assay. To investigate the degradation pattern with time, standardized serum samples of 18 AMI patients collected 0-72 h after admission were analyzed by Western blot analysis. RESULTS: GFC analysis of AMI patients' sera revealed 2 cTnT peaks with retention volumes of 5 and 21 mL. Western blot analysis identified these peaks as cTnT fragments of 29 and 14-18 kDa, respectively. Furthermore, the performance of direct Western blots on standardized serum samples demonstrated a time-dependent degradation pattern of cTnT, with fragments ranging between 14 and 40 kDa. Intact cTnT (40 kDa) was present in only 3 patients within the first 8 h after hospital admission. CONCLUSIONS: These results demonstrate that the Roche cTnT immunoassay detects intact as well as degraded cTnT forms in AMI patients' sera during the period of diagnostic testing. Moreover, following AMI, cTnT is degraded in a time-dependent pattern.