This experimental study was designed to define the potential value of a mid-infrared holmium laser in the free running mode for angioplasty. Immediately after removal, fresh normal and diseased human cadaveric arteries were irradiated under saline with a Ho:YAG laser (wavelength 2.13 microns). The laser was pulsed at 3 Hz, 250 microseconds pulse width and fluences of 10 to 40 J/cm2. The laser beam was coupled to ring catheters with multiple low-OH quartz fibers. The tip of the delivery device was held in direct contact with the vessel surface with the laser beam oriented perpendicularly. Ablation of atherosclerotic plaque was accomplished at an ablation threshold of 10 J/cm2. The ablation rate was 2.1 to 8.3 microns/pulse. Removal of calcified plaque was only partially effective. There were marked thermal effects with vacuolizations extending up to 1505 +/- 178 microns into the adjacent tissue. Laser light at the mid-infrared wavelength of 2.13 microns is supposed to be attractive as it is readily absorbed in water and can easily be transmitted through optical fibers. However, Q-switching seems to be essential to minimize thermal side effects and to make effective ablation of calcium possible.