- Background: Hypertensive patients develop carotid atherosclerotic plaques with enhanced inflammation. Full-length osteopontin (OPN-FL), a multifunctional protein whose levels are elevated in association with atherosclerosis, is cleaved by thrombin and matrix metalloproteinases to form a C-terminal and a putatively biologically active N-terminal fragment (OPN-C, OPN-N, respectively). We conducted a study to examine whether plaque inflammation in hypertensive patients corresponds to the expression of OPN or of its cleaved forms or both. Methods: We collected 42 carotid plaques from 41 consecutive hypertensive patients during carotid endarterectomy. Plaque tissue was used to measure matrix metalloproteinase-12 (MMP-12) and OPN proteins, and for the classification of plaques as showing low- or high-degree inflammation through histological and immunohistochemical evaluation. Results: Fifteen highly inflamed plaques and 27 plaques with characteristics of low-grade inflammation were collected. Moderate to heavy staining for OPN characterized 87% of the plaques with high-degree inflammation but only 44% of those with low-degree inflammation, corresponding to the percentages of plaques that were heavily stained for the macrophage marker CD68 (93% versus 26%, respectively, P < 0.01). Western blot analysis showed that the abundance of OPN-FL and OPN-C was comparable in the two groups. However, the abundance of OPN-N was significantly greater in the highly inflamed plaques (median, 3.8 (range, 0.8-7.3) vs. median, 0.9 (range, 0.2-1.5); P = 0.017, respectively). The abundance of MMP-12 was significantly greater in the high- than in the low-degree plaque inflammation group (4.8 (range 1.9-8.8) vs. 1.1 (range 0.3-1.4), respectively; P = 0.03). Conclusions: The N-terminal fragment of osteopontin, rather than OPN-FL or OPN-C, is associated with carotid plaque inflammation in hypertensive patients. Future studies should assess whether targeting OPN cleavage could present a new approach to preventing high-risk carotid plaques.