Fifteen necropsy specimens of human descending aorta and from eight patients with atheromatous vascular disease were studied by magnetic resonance imaging at 0.5 T. Images were acquired in coronal and transverse planes to localised protruding lesions and then chemical shift imaging was performed by techniques described by Dixon and by Hinks. These techniques produce images in which signal strength is proportional to lipid content. The signal was expressed as a percentage of that from extravascular fat. The total lipid content and its distribution within the plaques were noted. After imaging, the postmortem specimens were examined histologically and the lipid content of the plaque was assessed on a semiquantitative scale. The distribution of lipid within the plaque and between intima and media was also noted. The findings of chemical shift imaging agreed well with histological examination both for total lipid content and for distribution within each plaque. Chemical shift imaging also provided an assessment of the lipid content of the plaques measured in living patients, but validation was more difficult. The usefulness of the technique in routine clinical practice remains to be established.