Optical coherence tomography (OCT) is rapidly becoming the method of choice for assessing arterial wall pathology in vivo. Atherosclerotic plaques can be diagnosed with high accuracy, including measurement of the thickness of fibrous caps, enabling an assessment of the risk of rupture. While the OCT image presents morphological information in highly resolved detail, it relies on interpretation of the images by trained readers for the identification of vessel wall components and tissue type. We present a framework to enable systematic and automatic classification of atherosclerotic plaque constituents, based on the optical attenuation coefficient mu(t) of the tissue. OCT images of 65 coronary artery segments in vitro, obtained from 14 vessels harvested at autopsy, are analyzed and correlated with histology. Vessel wall components can be distinguished based on their optical properties: necrotic core and macrophage infiltration exhibit strong attenuation, mu(t)>or=10 mm(-1), while calcific and fibrous tissue have a lower mu(t) approximately 2-5mm(-1). The algorithm is successfully applied to OCT patient data, demonstrating that the analysis can be used in a clinical setting and assist diagnostics of vessel wall pathology.