The theory that iron may play a significant role in atherogenesis by promoting the formation of free radicals is controversial. Previous results using the new technique of nuclear microscopy showed a seven-fold increase in iron concentrations within newly formed atherosclerotic lesions in hypercholesterolemic rabbits compared to healthy artery tissue. In a follow-up time sequence study described here, we show that iron accumulation occurs at the onset of lesion formation. In addition, weekly bleeding decreases the iron uptake into the artery wall and delays the onset of atherogenesis. These results provide direct evidence for a key role of iron in initiating atherogenesis.