The endothelium regulates vascular tone through the release of vasodilating and vasoconstricting substances. The most important of these vasodilating substances is nitric oxide (NO), which is also vascular protective and inhibits inflammation, oxidation, vascular smooth muscle cell proliferation, and migration. Damage to the endothelium causes endothelial dysfunction with impaired release of NO and loss of its antiatherogenic protection. Traditional risk factors for coronary artery disease, including diabetes, hypercholesterolemia, hypertension, and low levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, are associated with endothelial dysfunction and thus promote the atherogenic process. More recently, insulin resistance in the absence of overt diabetes or the metabolic syndrome has been associated with endothelial dysfunction. This association provides evidence that the atherosclerotic process may actually begin earlier in the spectrum of insulin resistance, ultimately resulting in a progression of the metabolic syndrome to prediabetes and then to type 2 diabetes. Aggressive treatment of dyslipidemia and hypertension, even before the onset of type 2 diabetes, would appear prudent in decreasing the progression of the atherosclerotic process. The thiazolidinediones are peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-gamma agonists that improve glucose and lipid metabolism. These agents have recently been shown to improve endothelial function in the early stages of insulin resistance. Results from ongoing trials with thiazolidinediones will reveal whether they will also reduce cardiovascular end points.