Atherosclerotic yellow plaques identified by coronary angioscopy are considered as vulnerable plaques. However, characteristics of yellow plaques are not well understood. Optical coherence tomography (OCT) provides accurate tissue characterization in vivo and has the capability to measure fibrous cap thickness covering a lipid plaque. Characteristics of yellow plaques identified by angioscopy were evaluated by OCT. We examined 205 plaques of 41 coronary arteries in 26 patients. In OCT analysis, plaques were classified as fibrous or lipid. Minimal lumen area of the plaque, arch of the lipid, and fibrous cap thickness on the lipid plaque were measured. Yellow grade of the plaque was defined as 0 (white), 1 (light yellow), 2 (medium yellow), or 3 (dark yellow) based on the angioscopy. A total of 149 plaques were diagnosed as lipid plaques. Neither the minimal lumen area nor the arch of the lipid was related to the yellow grade. There was an inverse relationship between color grade and the fibrous cap thickness (grade 0 [n = 45] 218 +/- 89 microm, grade 1 [n = 40] 101 +/- 8 microm, grade 2 [n = 46] 72 +/- 10 microm, and grade 3 [n = 18] 40 +/- 14 microm; p <0.05). Sensitivity and specificity of the angioscopy-identified yellow plaque for having a thin fibrous cap (thickness <or=110 microm) were 98% and 96%, respectively. In conclusion, angioscopy-identified yellow plaques frequently were lipid tissue with an overlying thin fibrous cap. Fibrous caps of the intense yellow plaques were very thin, and these plaques might be structurally vulnerable.