Somatic DNA damage has been linked to coronary artery disease (CAD). However, whether genetic instability is linked to CAD per se or to concomitant potentially genotoxic metabolic and pharmacological factors remains still unclear. The aim of this study was to evaluate the determinants of somatic DNA damage in a large population of patients undergoing coronary angiography. A total of 278 in-hospital patients (215 men, age 61.8+/-0.7 years) were studied by using micronucleus assay (MN) in human lymphocytes, which is one of the most commonly used biomarker for somatic DNA damage. Significant CAD (>50% diameter stenosis) was present in 210 patients (179 men, age 62.3+/-0.7 years). Normal coronary arteries were observed in 68 patients (35 men, age 60.2+/-1.7 years). There were no significant differences between patients with and without CAD, but patients with multivessel disease had the highest MN levels (P=0.01). MN frequency was also found significantly higher in presence of type 2 diabetes (P<0.0001), dyslipidemia (P=0.048) and nitrate therapy (P=0.0002). A significant additive effect was also observed between diabetes and nitrate therapy (P=0.02). On multivariate logistic regression analysis, diabetes [odds ratio=6.8 (95% confidence interval, 3.2-14.5), P<0.0001] and nitrate therapy [odds ratio=2.4 (95% confidence interval, 1.3-4.7), P=0.01] remained the only significant determinants for the 50th percentile of MN (>12 per thousand). These results indicated that diabetes and, to a lesser extent, chronic nitrate therapy are major determinants of somatic DNA instability in patients with CAD. DNA damage might represent an additional pathogenetic dimension and a possible therapeutic target in the still challenging management of coronary artery disease concerning diabetics.