PURPOSE: Atherosclerosis is the primary cause of heart disease and stroke. The detailed assessment of atherosclerosis of the carotid artery requires high resolution imaging of the vessel wall using multiple MR sequences with different contrast weightings. These images allow manual or automated classification of plaque components inside the vessel wall. Automated classification requires all sequences to be in alignment, which is hampered by patient motion. In clinical practice, correction of this motion is performed manually. Previous studies applied automated image registration to correct for motion using only nondeformable transformation models and did not perform a detailed quantitative validation. The purpose of this study is to develop an automated accurate 3D registration method, and to extensively validate this method on a large set of patient data. In addition, the authors quantified patient motion during scanning to investigate the need for correction. METHODS: MR imaging studies (1.5T, dedicated carotid surface coil, Philips) from 55 TIAstroke patients with ipsilateral <70% carotid artery stenosis were randomly selected from a larger cohort. Five MR pulse sequences were acquired around the carotid bifurcation, each containing nine transverse slices: T1-weighted turbo field echo, time of flight, T2-weighted turbo spin-echo, and pre- and postcontrast T1-weighted turbo spin-echo images (T1W TSE). The images were manually segmented by delineating the lumen contour in each vessel wall sequence and were manually aligned by applying throughplane and inplane translations to the images. To find the optimal automatic image registration method, different masks, choice of the fixed image, different types of the mutual information image similarity metric, and transformation models including 3D deformable transformation models, were evaluated. Evaluation of the automatic registration results was performed by comparing the lumen segmentations of the fixed image and moving image after registration. RESULTS: The average required manual translation per image slice was 1.33 mm. Translations were larger as the patient was longer inside the scanner. Manual alignment took 187.5 s per patient resulting in a mean surface distance of 0.271 +/- 0.127 mm. After minimal user interaction to generate the mask in the fixed image, the remaining sequences are automatically registered with a computation time of 52.0 s per patient. The optimal registration strategy used a circular mask with a diameter of 10 mm, a 3D B-spline transformation model with a control point spacing of 15 mm, mutual information as image similarity metric, and the precontrast T1W TSE as fixed image. A mean surface distance of 0.288 +/- 0.128 mm was obtained with these settings, which is very close to the accuracy of the manual alignment procedure. The exact registration parameters and software were made publicly available. CONCLUSIONS: An automated registration method was developed and optimized, only needing two mouse clicks to mark the start and end point of the artery. Validation on a large group of patients showed that automated image registration has similar accuracy as the manual alignment procedure, substantially reducing the amount of user interactions needed, and is multiple times faster. In conclusion, the authors believe that the proposed automated method can replace the current manual procedure, thereby reducing the time to analyze the images.