An in vitro model was designed to test the hypothesis that thrombi of varying composition have different echogenic patterns. Thrombi were prepared in specially designed tubes, mounted on a holder that allows introduction of an intravascular ultrasound catheter rotated inside a subselective sheath. The thrombi were made by the addition of thrombin to whole blood, platelet-rich plasma, and to mixtures of whole blood and platelet-rich plasma with increasing concentration of whole blood relative to the volume of the mixture in the following ratios: 1:5, 2:5, 3:5 and 4:5. Sixty-six thrombi prepared from 11 blood samples of healthy subjects were studied and compared with control tubes filled with saline solution. Platelet-rich thrombi showed low echogenicity similar to saline solution. Whole blood thrombi appeared uniformly "speckled." Mixtures of whole blood and platelet-rich plasma showed a gradual increase in echogenicity with an increasing amount of whole blood in the mixture. Quantitative videodensitometry compared the gray scale intensity of each image relative to background saline. The mean value of echogenicity of platelet-rich thrombi was 0.9 +/- 1.2, and the mean value of whole blood thrombi was 13 +/- 5.3. Platelet-rich thrombi are echo-lucent, and the main echogenic reflectance of thrombi originates from red blood cells. The ultrasound intensity is in linear relation to the amount of red blood cells in the thrombus.