Decreased arterial compliance in end-stage renal disease (ESRD) is associated with increased cardiovascular risk. Our aim was to examine aortic compliance in patients with ESRD using cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and to compare these with patients with advanced atherosclerotic disease who are known to be at high cardiovascular risk. We examined a total of 83 subjects matched for age: 24 had ESRD and were on dialysis therapy for 3+/-6 years, 24 had severe coronary artery disease (CAD), 11 had both ESRD and CAD (4+/-5 years on dialysis therapy), and 24 healthy subjects with no evidence of CAD. Vascular and cardiac function was assessed using cardiac MRI. Aortic compliance was significantly reduced in patients with CAD compared to control subjects (11.3+/-6.3 ml x 10(-3)/mm Hg vs 15.6+/-6.0 ml x 10(-3)/mm Hg, P=0.009). Patients with ESRD also exhibited significantly reduced aortic compliance compared to healthy controls (12.4+/-5.8 ml x 10(-3)/mm Hg vs 15.6+/-6.0 ml 10(-3)/mm Hg, P=0.012), whereas there was no significant difference in aortic compliance between patients with CAD and ESRD. Even in the absence of symptomatic CAD, patients with ESRD have significantly reduced aortic compliance compared to normal subjects. Patients with ESRD have equivalent aortic compliance to patients with advanced CAD. These findings suggest that a significantly reduced aortic compliance is one of many mechanisms promoting premature cardiovascular events in patients with ESRD compared to age-matched controls from the general population.