Atherosclerosis is a chronic disease of the arterial wall, and a leading cause of death and loss of productive life years worldwide. Research into the disease has led to many compelling hypotheses about the pathophysiology of atherosclerotic lesion formation and of complications such as myocardial infarction and stroke. Yet, despite these advances, we still lack definitive evidence to show that processes such as lipoprotein oxidation, inflammation and immunity have a crucial involvement in human atherosclerosis. Experimental atherosclerosis in animals furnishes an important research tool, but extrapolation to humans requires care. Understanding how to combine experimental and clinical science will provide further insight into atherosclerosis and could lead to new clinical applications.