The expression of intercellular adhesion molecule (ICAM-1) and vascular cell adhesion molecule (VCAM-1) were studied in the conjunctiva of diabetic patients with and without retinopathy. All patients underwent a complete ophthalmic examination including ocular fundus and retinal fluorescein angiography. The indirect immunoperoxidase method was performed on 15 normal conjunctivas taken during cataract surgery (group 1), on 40 eyes of 40 patients with type 2 diabetes without diabetic retinopathy (DR) (group 2) and 13 eyes of 13 patients with DR (group 3). ICAM-1 and VCAM-1 are located in epithelial cells, vascular endothelial cells and in stromal cells. Our results show a statistically significant increase in the immunohistochemical expression of these proteins in the conjunctiva of diabetic patients with and without DR in comparison with normal conjunctiva (P = 0.001). Noteworthy, ICAM-1 and VCAM-1 are upregulated in the conjunctiva of diabetic patients with and without retinopathy, reflecting the inflammatory nature of this condition and suggesting a possible role for these mediators in the pathogenesis of diabetic microangiopathy.