Numerous epidemiologic time-series studies have shown generally consistent associations of cardiovascular hospital admissions and mortality with outdoor air pollution, particularly mass concentrations of particulate matter (PM) < or = 2.5 or < or = 10 microm in diameter (PM2.5, PM10). Panel studies with repeated measures have supported the time-series results showing associations between PM and risk of cardiac ischemia and arrhythmias, increased blood pressure, decreased heart rate variability, and increased circulating markers of inflammation and thrombosis. The causal components driving the PM associations remain to be identified. Epidemiologic data using pollutant gases and particle characteristics such as particle number concentration and elemental carbon have provided indirect evidence that products of fossil fuel combustion are important. Ultrafine particles < 0.1 microm (UFPs) dominate particle number concentrations and surface area and are therefore capable of carrying large concentrations of adsorbed or condensed toxic air pollutants. It is likely that redox-active components in UFPs from fossil fuel combustion reach cardiovascular target sites. High UFP exposures may lead to systemic inflammation through oxidative stress responses to reactive oxygen species and thereby promote the progression of atherosclerosis and precipitate acute cardiovascular responses ranging from increased blood pressure to myocardial infarction. The next steps in epidemiologic research are to identify more clearly the putative PM casual components and size fractions linked to their sources. To advance this, we discuss in a companion article (Sioutas C, Delfino RJ, Singh M. 2005. Environ Health Perspect 113:947-955) the need for and methods of UFP exposure assessment.