The aged garlic extract 'Kyolic' lowers serum cholesterol levels in humans and experimental animals and thus is presumed to have a protective effect against atherosclerosis. However, to date no studies have examined the effect of this substance on the actual development of the disease. In the present study, the right carotid artery of 24 rabbits was de-endothelialized by balloon catheterisation in order to produce a myointimal thickening. After 2 weeks the rabbits were randomly assigned to four groups: Group I received a standard diet; Group II received the standard diet supplemented with 800 microl/kg body weight/day 'Kyolic'; Group III received a 1% cholesterol supplemented standard diet; and Group IV received a 1% cholesterol supplemented standard diet plus 'Kyolic'. After 6 weeks, the cholesterol diet caused a 6-fold increase in serum cholesterol level (Group III; 6.4 +/- 0.6 mmol/l) compared to normal diet (Group I; 1.2 +/- 0.4 mmol/l) (P < 0.05) with only a minor, non-significant reduction seen by the addition of 'Kyolic' (Group IV; 6.2 +/- 0.7 mmol/l). Group III rabbits developed fatty streak lesions covering approximately 70 +/- 8% of the surface area of the thoracic aorta, which was significantly reduced to 25 +/- 3% in the 'Kyolic'-treated Group IV. No lesions were present in Groups I and II. The hypercholesterolaemic diet caused an increase in aortic arch cholesterol (2.1 +/- 0.1 mg cholesterol/g tissue) which was significantly reduced by 'Kyolic' supplementation (1.7 +/- 0.2 mg cholesterol/g tissue) (P < 0.05). 'Kyolic' significantly inhibited the development of thickened, lipid-filled lesions in the pre-formed neointimas produced by balloon-catheter injury of the right carotid artery in cholesterol-fed rabbits (intima as percent of artery wall, Group III 42.6 +/- 6.5% versus Group IV 23.8 +/- 2.3%, P < 0.01), but had little effect in rabbits on a standard diet (Group II 18.4 +/- 5.0% versus Group I 16.7 +/- 2.0%). In vitro studies showed that 'Kyolic' has a direct effect on inhibition of smooth muscle proliferation. In conclusion, 'Kyolic' treatment reduces fatty streak development, vessel wall cholesterol accumulation and the development of fibro fatty plaques in neointimas of cholesterol-fed rabbits, thus providing protection against the onset of atherosclerosis.