The high concentrations of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol in plasma lead to accelerated atherosclerosis in patients homozygous for familial hypercholesterolemia (FH). We addressed the hypothesis that lipid deposition in the arterial vasculature and in nonvascular tissues in these patients correlates with both the duration and severity of their hypercholesterolemia. The severity of calcific atherosclerosis was defined by calcification scores and a calcified volume determined by electron beam tomography. The extent of tendinous xanthomatosis was quantitated by computed tomography. A cholesterol-year score was calculated based on the age and the yearly mean serum cholesterol concentration of each patient. Seventeen patients homozygous for FH were followed up. The average total cholesterol concentration in the study group was 780 +/- 231 mg/dl (20.2 mmol/L), and the cholesterol-year scores ranged from 2,172 mg-year/dl (56 mmol-year/L) to 32,260 mg-year/dl (834 mmol-year/L). Achilles tendon width (r=0.86) and cross-sectional area (r=0.81; both p <0.001) were best correlated with the cholesterol-year score. In addition, the coronary (r=0.61; p<0.05), ostial (r=0.45; p<0.05), and total (r= 0.77; p<0.001) calcification atherosclerosis scores all were best correlated with the cholesterol-year score. Calcific atherosclerosis was not observed in these patients until the cholesterol-year score exceeded 10,000 mg-year/dl (260 mmol-year/L). These findings establish a direct association of cholesterol-year with extravascular lipid deposition in tissues of patients with FH. The cholesterol-year score may be useful in defining the risk of atherosclerosis in patients with more common forms of hypercholesterolemia.