Samples of atherosclerotic tissue from 58 patients undergoing carotid surgery were analysed by tissue culture and PCR for Chlamydia pneumoniae; PCR was performed to detect Omp1, 16S rRNA and HSP-70 genes. To understand the active pathogenic role of C. pneumoniae, a reverse transcriptase-PCR (RT-PCR) assay was applied to detect the specific RNAs expressed either in the replicative form, or in the cryptic form found in chronic infection. The C. pneumoniae omp1 gene, encoding the major outer-membrane protein (MOMP), was detected in 13 of 58 samples. Among these, the result was confirmed in 11 samples after amplification of a further target, the 16S rRNA, and the presence of the HSP-70 gene, encoding heat-shock protein 70, was revealed in only five cases. All the samples were negative for evidence of specific RNAs by RT-PCR. The presence of genomic DNA and absence of specific RNAs in atherosclerotic tissue samples suggests a lack of an active metabolic or persistent infective role for C. pneumoniae. Thus, traces of C. pneumoniae DNA in these samples could be due to a degradative pathway of the host defensive cellular and biochemical mechanisms.