Vascular abnormalities in scleroderma are fundamental to the pathogenesis of this disease. The objective of this study was to characterize dermal microvascular endothelial cells (DMEC) isolated from scleroderma patients with respect to growth and expression of the constitutive form of endothelial nitric oxide synthase (eNOS). DMEC from patients with both systemic sclerosis (SSc) and localized scleroderma (Loc Scl) contained small intact microvascular structures in contrast to single cell isolations obtained from control skin. Immunoaffinity selection on anti-PECAM-1 beads yielded pure populations of DMEC expressing normal markers. While the morphology and initial growth of SSc DMEC closely paralleled control cells, the growth of SSc DMEC decreased with time in culture (doubling time of 3 days vs. 5 days). Expression of ecNOS mRNA was reduced in both Loc Scl and SSc as shown by semi-quantitative RT-PCR (p < 0.001). Western blots showed variable but generally lower ecNOS protein levels and decreased levels of nitrogen oxides in media were found from both SSc and Loc Scl relative to control cells. The results indicate an intrinsic defect in the mechanism of nitric oxide production in DMEC isolated from scleroderma patients and suggest its possible involvement in the pathophysiology of scleroderma.