Caveolin-1 (Cav-1) is a regulatory protein of the arterial wall, but its role in human atherosclerosis remains unknown. We have studied the relationships between Cav-1 abundance, atherosclerotic plaque characteristics and clinical manisfestations of atherosclerotic disease.We determined Cav-1 expression by western blotting in atherosclerotic plaques harvested from 378 subjects that underwent carotid endarterectomy. Cav-1 levels were significantly lower in carotid plaques than non-atherosclerotic vascular specimens. Low Cav-1 expression was associated with features of plaque instability such as large lipid core, thrombus formation, macrophage infiltration, high IL-6, IL-8 levels and elevated MMP-9 activity. Clinically, a down-regulation of Cav-1 was observed in plaques obtained from men, patients with a history of myocardial infarction and restenotic lesions. Cav-1 levels above the median were associated with absence of new vascular events within 30 days after surgery [0% vs. 4%] and a trend towards lower incidence of new cardiovascular events during longer follow-up. Consistent with these clinical data, Cav-1 null mice revealed elevated intimal hyperplasia response following arterial injury that was significantly attenuated after MMP inhibition. Recombinant peptides mimicking Cav-1 scaffolding domain (Cavtratin) reduced gelatinase activity in cultured porcine arteries and impaired MMP-9 activity and COX-2 in LPS-challenged macrophages. Administration of Cavtratin strongly impaired flow-induced expansive remodeling in mice. This is the first study that identifies Cav-1 as a novel potential stabilizing factor in human atherosclerosis. Our findings support the hypothesis that local down-regulation of Cav-1 in atherosclerotic lesions contributes to plaque formation and/or instability accelerating the occurrence of adverse clinical outcomes. Therefore, given the large number of patients studied, we believe that Cav-1 may be considered as a novel target in the prevention of human atherosclerotic disease and the loss of Cav-1 may be a novel biomarker of vulnerable plaque with prognostic value.