Although the iron-heart disease hypothesis is prevalent, the epidemiological findings are incongruent. The relationship of serum ferritin with early cardiovascular disease (CVD), particularly atherosclerosis, has not been evaluated extensively, particularly with accounting for inflammation. We examined this association in a case-control study of 124 age- and sex-matched pairs embedded in the population-based random sample (MONICA survey) in Southwest France, taking into account inflammation status. Cases had >or=2 carotid atherosclerotic plaques and controls had none. Inflammation was assessed using several markers, including serum alpha-1 acid glycoprotein (AGP) and high sensitivity C-reactive protein. There was an interaction of inflammation with group (case/control) for serum ferritin. In adults without elevated AGP, serum ferritin was significantly greater in atherosclerotic cases than in adults in the control group. In models adjusted for CVD risk factors, the odds of atherosclerosis increased with the increase in serum ferritin in individuals without elevated AGP; for every 10-microg/L increase in serum ferritin, the risk for atherosclerosis increased by 3% (odds ratio [95% CI]: 1.03 [1.01-1.06]). In conclusion, carotid atherosclerosis was positively associated with serum ferritin in individuals free from subclinical inflammation based on AGP. Further prospective and/or experimental studies are needed to corroborate the observed association of iron status with atherosclerosis.