In response to cytokine stimulation, the inducible isoform of the nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) produces large amounts of nitric oxide with potential consequences in the pathophysiology of atherosclerosis. Previous investigations have demonstrated the presence of iNOS in human atherosclerotic lesions. The goal of this study was to evaluate the occurrence of the expression of iNOS in ruptured versus non-ruptured human carotid atherosclerotic plaques. Using plastic-embedded sections, we performed in situ hybridization and immunohistochemistry on very advanced atherosclerotic lesions type V (non-ruptured) and type VI (ruptured) from 12 atheromatous carotid arteries from endarterectomy and six non-atherosclerotic internal mammary arteries from aorto-coronary bypass. Only one internal mammary artery expressed iNOS in the endothelium. In contrast, iNOS mRNA and protein were repeatedly expressed in advanced lesions type V in 5/7 cases, particularly in inflammatory regions. Specific cell markers identified iNOS-positive cells as macrophages and T-lymphocytes but also as smooth muscle cells and endothelial cells adjacent to these inflammatory regions. Nitration of protein tyrosines was not always associated to iNOS expression but more likely to the presence of inflammatory cells. In complicated lesions type VI, the occurrence of iNOS mRNA and protein expression diminished drastically (1/5 cases). Combined expression of iNOS mRNA and protein is frequently found in advanced but non-ruptured human atherosclerotic carotid lesions while it becomes rare after the plaque has ruptured. These findings suggest that iNOS could be an active participant in the plaque rupture event.