Calcification has been examined in 250 samples of atherosclerotic lesions (types II to VI) of human carotid arteries using von Kossa and haematoxylin staining. Early calcification described as 'stippling' was first noted in stage III specimens, with intermediate and solid calcifications becoming increasingly prominent within advanced plaques, especially stages Vb and VI. Although the relative frequencies of stippling, intermediate and large calcified deposits varied between plaques of the same stage, the prevalent sites of calcification were recognized as the deeper regions of the intima and the atheroma. Immunolocalization and histochemical techniques were used to identify the associations of mast cells (MCs), macrophages, smooth muscle cells (SMCs), and elastin with the different stages of calcification. Early, dispersed stippling was commonly associated with local accumulations of macrophages (HAM56 and CD68-positive), MCs and extracellular MC tryptase, the presence of immunoreactive elastin, but the relative absence of SMCs. Intermediate stages of calcification described as 'morula' deposits were also associated with local increases in the numbers of macrophages and MCs. Larger calcified deposits, even within the same plaque specimen, showed no regular pattern of cellular or elastin associations. However, in the vast majority of specimens, macrophages represented the predominant cell type associated with different phases of calcification. By contrast, the calcification less frequently observed in the media beneath advanced plaques was commonly associated with SMCs and elastin; only rarely were macrophages or MCs present. These studies are the first to demonstrate that macrophages, MCs, and extracellular tryptase frequently occupy micro-environmental loci showing the first stages of calcification within the atherosclerotic plaque; similar associations with more advanced mineral deposits are discussed in relation to plaque rupture.