We investigate the effect of heart rate on the quality and artifact generation in coronary artery images obtained using multi-slice computed tomography (MSCT) with the purpose of finding the optimal time resolution for data acquisition. To perform the study, we used the 4D NCAT phantom, a computer model of the normal human anatomy and cardiac and respiratory motions developed in our laboratory. Although capable of being far more realistic, the 4D NCAT cardiac model was originally designed for low-resolution imaging research, and lacked the anatomical detail to be applicable to high-resolution CT. In this work, we updated the cardiac model to include a more detailed anatomy and physiology based on high-resolution clinical gated MSCT data. To demonstrate its utility in high-resolution dynamic CT imaging research, the enhanced 4D NCAT was then used in a pilot simulation study to investigate the effect of heart rate on CT angiography. The 4D NCAT was used to simulate patients with different heart rates (60-120 beats/minute) and with various cardiac plaques of known size and location within the coronary arteries. For each simulated patient, MSCT projection data was generated with data acquisition windows ranging from 100 to 250 ms centered within the quiet phase (mid-diastole) of the heart using an analytical CT projection algorithm. CT images were reconstructed from the projection data, and the contrast of the plaques was then measured to assess the effect of heart rate and to determine the optimal time resolution required for each case. The 4D NCAT phantom with its realistic model for the cardiac motion was found to provide a valuable tool from which to optimize CT cardiac applications. Our results indicate the importance of optimizing the time resolution with regard to heart rate and plaque location for improved CT images at a reduced patient dose.