Paraoxonase (PON), a high-density lipoprotein-associated enzyme, is believed to protect against low-density lipoprotein oxidation and thus affects the risk of coronary artery disease (CAD). Three polymorphisms in the PON1 (Leu55Met and Gln192Arg) and PON2 (Ser311Cys) genes have been shown to be associated with the risk of CAD in several European or European-derived populations. In the present study, we examined the associations between these three markers and the severity of CAD as determined by the number of diseased coronary artery vessels in 711 subjects (589 whites and 122 blacks) from the Women's Ischemia Syndrome Evaluation (WISE) study. WISE is a National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute-sponsored multicenter study designed to address issues related to ischemic-heart-disease recognition and diagnosis in women. Subjects were classified as having normal/minimal CAD (<20% stenosis), mild CAD (20%-49% stenosis), and significant CAD (>/=50% stenosis). The women who had >/=50% stenosis were further classified into groups with one-, two-, or three-vessel disease if any of the three coronary arteries had diameter stenosis >/=50%. No significant association was found between the PON polymorphisms and stenosis severity in either white or black women. However, among white women, when data were stratified by the number of diseased vessels, the frequency of the PON1 codon 192 Arg/Arg genotype was significantly higher in the group with three-vessel disease than in the other groups (those with one-vessel and two-vessel disease) combined (17.02% vs. 4.58%; P=.0066). Similarly, the frequency of the PON2 codon 311 Cys/Cys genotype was significantly higher in the group with three-vessel disease than in the other groups combined (15.22% vs. 4.61%; P=.018). The adjusted odds ratios for the development of three-vessel disease were 2.80 (95% confidence interval 1.06-7.37; P=.038) for PON1 codon 192 Arg/Arg and 3.68 (95% confidence interval 1.26-10.68; P=.017) for PON2 codon 311 Cys/Cys. Our data indicate that the severity of CAD, in terms of the number of diseased vessels, may be affected by common genetic variation in the PON gene cluster, on chromosome 7.