The presence of cigarette smoking-related polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH)-DNA adducts was investigated in human arterial tissue using an immunoperoxidase staining method with a monoclonal antibody that recognizes benzo(a)pyrene and structurally related PAH diol epoxide-DNA adducts. This is the first time that immunohistochemical methods for detection of PAH-DNA damage have been applied to human endothelial and smooth muscle cells of blood vessels. Internal mammary artery specimens from a total of 37 smokers and non-smokers were tested. Positive nuclear staining was observed in both endothelial and smooth muscle cells, with higher staining in the endothelium. The correlation between smoking status, available for 33 subjects, and detectable PAH-DNA adducts in endothelium did not reach statistical significance (odds ratio = 3.38, 95% confidence interval is 0.47-27.60) in this small series. While no causal role can be inferred from our results, they support the theory that endothelial injury caused by cigarette smoking and other environmental exposures may be an early event in the process of atherosclerosis.