Copper is an essential trace element in the maintenance of the cardiovascular system. Copper-deficient diets can elicit, in animals, structural and functional changes that are comparable to those observed in coronary heart disease. In this study, the effect of dietary-induced copper deficiency on aortic lesion development was measured by quantitative image analysis in C57BL/6 mice that are susceptible to diet-induced aortic lesions. The diets administered were severely copper deficient (0.2 mg/kg diet), marginally deficient (0.6 mg/kg diet), or copper adequate (6.0 mg/kg diet). Similarly, increased aortic lesion areas and elevated serum cholesterol were demonstrated in both deficient groups, compared with the copper-adequate group. Evidence for graded differences in copper status among the dietary groups was shown by the dose-response increase in liver copper concentration, copper-zinc superoxide dismutase and cytochrome-c oxidase activities, together with serum caeruloplasmin oxidase with increasing intakes of dietary copper. Despite the difference in copper status between the copper marginal and severely deficient groups, similar lesions found in both groups of mice suggest a threshold effect of copper deficiency on lesion formation.