The normal transmyocardial tissue hematocrit distribution ( i.e., subepicardial greater than subendocardial) is known to be affected by red blood cell ( RBC) aggregation. Prior studies employing the use of infused large macromolecules to increase erythrocyte aggregation are complicated by both increased plasma viscosity and dilution of plasma. Using a new technique to specifically alter the aggregation behavior by covalent attachment of Pluronic F-98 to the surface of the RBC, we have determined the effects of only enhanced aggregation ( i.e., Pluronic F-98-coated RBCs) versus enhanced aggregation with increased plasma viscosity ( i.e., an addition of 500 kDa dextran) on myocardial tissue hematocrit in rapidly frozen guinea pig hearts. Although both approaches equally increased aggregation, tissue hematocrit profiles differed markedly: 1) when Pluronic F-98-coated cells were used, the normal transmyocardial gradient was abolished, and 2) when dextran was added, the hematocrit remained at subepicardial levels for about one-half the thickness of the myocardium and then rapidly decreased to the control level in the subendocardial layer. Our results indicate that myocardial hematocrit profiles are sensitive to both RBC aggregation and to changes of plasma viscosity associated with increased RBC aggregation. Furthermore, they suggest the need for additional studies to explore the mechanisms affecting RBC distribution in three-dimensional vascular beds.