Oxidatively modified lipoproteins have been implicated in atherogenesis, but the mechanisms that promote oxidation in vivo have not been identified. Myeloperoxidase, a heme protein secreted by activated macrophages, generates reactive intermediates that oxidize lipoproteins in vitro. To explore the potential role of myeloperoxidase in the development of atherosclerosis, we determined whether the enzyme was present in surgically excised human vascular tissue. In detergent extracts of atherosclerotic arteries subjected to Western blotting, a rabbit polyclonal antibody monospecific for myeloperoxidase detected a 56-kD protein, the predicted molecular mass of the heavy subunit. Both the immunoreactive protein and authentic myeloperoxidase bound to a lectin-affinity column; after elution with methyl mannoside their apparent molecular masses were indistinguishable by nondenaturing size-exclusion chromatography. Peroxidase activity in detergent extracts of atherosclerotic lesions likewise bound to a lectin column and eluted with methyl mannoside. Moreover, eluted peroxidase generated the cytotoxic oxidant hypochlorous acid (HOCl), indicating that enzymatically active myeloperoxidase was present in lesions. Patterns of immunostaining of arterial tissue with antihuman myeloperoxidase antibodies were similar to those produced by an antimacrophage antibody, and were especially prominent in the shoulder region of transitional lesions. Intense foci of myeloperoxidase immunostaining also appeared adjacent to cholesterol clefts in lipid-rich regions of advanced atherosclerotic lesions. These findings identify myeloperoxidase as a component of human vascular lesions. Because this heme protein can generate reactive species that damage lipids and proteins, myeloperoxidase may contribute to atherogenesis by catalyzing oxidative reactions in the vascular wall.