Coronary atherosclerosis is frequently associated with calcification of arterial plaque. To understand the mechanisms responsible for the formation of atherosclerotic calcification, we examined human coronary arteries for the presence and extent of mineral. In sections stained specifically for mineral, staining was diffuse and present in all atherosclerotic plaques. Hydroxyapatite was not detected in normal coronary artery sections. Distribution of hydroxyapatite coincided with a similar distribution of calcium detected by a radiodense pattern using contact microradiography of the same sections before cytochemical staining. By energy-dispersive x-ray microanalysis, the chemical composition of calcified sites was identical to hydroxyapatite (Ca10[PO4]6[OH]2), the major inorganic component of bone. Osteopontin is a phosphorylated glycoprotein with known involvement in the formation and calcification of bone and is regulated by local cytokines. Human coronary artery segments (14 normal and 34 atherosclerotic) obtained at autopsy were evaluated immunohistochemically using polyclonal antibodies generated against human osteopontin. Immunohistochemistry for osteopontin indicated intense, highly specific staining in the outer margins of all diseased segments at each calcification front; staining was evident throughout the entire plaque. Conversely, arterial segments free of atheroma and calcification and sections treated with nonimmune serum had no evidence of positive staining. Osteopontin, a protein involved in mineralization is specifically associated with calcific coronary atheroma and may play an important role in the onset and progression of this disease in human coronary arteries. The deposition of noncollagenous proteins such as osteopontin may regulate the presence or absence of calcification and ultimately alter vessel compliance.