Abstract Cells with enhanced levels of collagen type I and III mRNA were identified and localized in frozen tissue sections from samples of human atherosclerotic renal and common iliac arteries by in situ hybridization using complementary 35S-labeled RNA probes. Serial sections were immunohistochemically stained for smooth muscle cells, monocytes, and differentiated macrophages. In the fibromuscular intima and in the fibrous plaques, cells with enhanced transcriptional activity were located mainly in the vicinity of differentiated macrophages. In three patients, lack of enhanced transcriptional activity in a proliferated intima was connected with complete absence of macrophages, thus indicating a quiescent stage of atherosclerosis. Immunohistochemical staining of serial sections for smooth muscle cells (SMC) revealed the presence of this cell type throughout the proliferated intima in atherosclerotic arteries including those areas in which enhanced collagen mRNAs were detected. The present results support the idea that macrophages play an important role in the activation of collagen synthesis in SMC of atherosclerotic vessel walls.