The feasibility of assessing arterial wall configuration with an intravascular 40 MHz ultrasound imaging device was investigated in an in vitro study of 11 autopsy specimens of human arteries. The system consists of a single element transducer, rotated with a motor mounted on an 8F catheter tip. Cross sections obtained with ultrasound were matched with the corresponding histologic sections. The arterial specimens were histologically classified as of the muscular or elastic type. Muscular arteries interrogated with ultrasound presented with a hypoechoic media, coinciding with the smooth muscle cells. In contrast, the media of an elastic artery densely packed with elastin fibers was as echogenic as the intima and the adventitia. On the basis of the cross-sectional image, it was possible to determine the nature of the atherosclerotic plaque. The location and thickness of the lesion measured from the histologic sections correlated well with the data derived from the corresponding ultrasound images. This study indicates that characterization of the type of artery and detection of arterial wall disease are possible with use of an intravascular ultrasound imaging technique.