Elevated circulating levels of soluble adhesion molecules as markers of endothelial dysfunction have been related to insulin resistance and its associated metabolic abnormalities. However, their associations with type 2 diabetes remain inconclusive. We conducted a prospective nested case-control study to examine the associations between plasma levels of E-selectin, intercellular adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM-1), and vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 (VCAM-1) and diabetes risk among 82,069 initially healthy women aged 50-79 years from the Women's Health Initiative Observational Study. During a median follow-up of 5.9 years, 1,584 incident diabetes case subjects were matched with 2,198 control subjects by age, ethnicity, clinical center, time of blood draw, and follow-up time. Baseline median levels of the biomarkers were each significantly higher among case subjects than among control subjects (E-selectin, 49 vs. 37 ng/ml; ICAM-1, 324 vs. 280 ng/ml; and VCAM-1, 765 vs. 696 ng/ml [all P values <0.001]). After adjustment for risk factors, the relative risks of diabetes among women in the highest quartile versus those in the lowest quartile were 3.46 for E-selectin (95% CI 2.56-4.68; P for trend <0.0001), 2.34 for ICAM-1 (1.75-3.13; P for trend <0.0001), and 1.48 for VCAM-1 (1.07-2.04; P for trend = 0.009). E-selectin and ICAM-1 remain significant in each ethnic group. In conclusion, higher levels of E-selectin and ICAM-1 were consistently associated with increased diabetes risk in a multiethnic cohort of U.S. postmenopausal women, implicating an etiological role of endothelial dysfunction in the pathogenesis of type 2 diabetes.