Normal menopause is associated with vascular endothelial dysfunction, an early stage of atherosclerosis. The effect of premature ovarian failure (or premature menopause) on endothelial function in young women is unknown. Endothelial function was assessed in 18 women with premature ovarian failure before and after 6 months of hormone therapy and was compared with the endothelial function of 20 age- and body mass index-matched premenopausal women. Brachial artery diameter was measured both during hyperemia (an index of endothelium-dependent vasodilation) and in response to glyceryl trinitrate (an index of endothelium-independent vaso-dilation). Flow-mediated dilation was significantly lower in women with premature ovarian failure at baseline (increase in brachial artery diameter during hyperemia by 3.06 +/- 4.33%) than in control women (increase by 8.84 +/- 2.15%; P < 0.0005). Glyceryl trinitrate-induced vasodilation did not differ between the groups. After hormone therapy for 6 months, flow-mediated dilation was improved in women with premature ovarian failure, increasing by more than 2-fold (7.41 +/- 3.86%; P < 0.005 compared with pretreatment) and reaching normal values (P not significant compared with control women). Glyceryl trinitrate-induced vasodilation did not change after treatment in women with premature ovarian failure. Young women with premature ovarian failure have significant vascular endothelial dysfunction. Early onset of endothelial dysfunction associated with sex steroid deficiency may contribute to the increased risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality in young women with premature ovarian failure. Hormone therapy restores endothelial function within 6 months of treatment.