The purpose of this in vivo MRI study was to quantify changes in atherosclerotic plaque morphology prospectively and to identify factors that may alter the rate of progression in plaque burden. Sixty-eight asymptomatic subjects with >or=50% stenosis, underwent serial carotid MRI examinations over an 18-month period. Clinical risk factors for atherosclerosis, and medications were documented prospectively. The wall and total vessel areas, matched across time-points, were measured from cross-sectional images. The normalized wall index (NWI=wall area/total vessel area), as a marker of disease severity, was documented at baseline and at 18 months. Multiple regression analysis was used to correlate risk factors and morphological features of the plaque with the rate of progression/regression. On average, the wall area increased by 2.2% per year (P=0.001). Multiple regression analysis demonstrated that statin therapy (P=0.01) and a normalized wall index >0.64 (P=0.001) were associated with a significantly reduced rate of progression in mean wall area. All other documented risk factors were not significantly associated with changes in wall area. Findings from this study suggest that increased normalized wall index and the use of statin therapy are associated with reduced rates of plaque progression amongst individuals with advanced, asymptomatic carotid atherosclerosis.