In adult dermatomyositis 10 muscle specimens with no or minimal histological alterations were compared with 7 that showed typical alterations. Five specimens from patients with inclusion body myositis, 5 from patients with polymyositis, and 8 from normal subjects served as controls. Vascular endothelium, visualized with the lectin Ulex europaeus agglutinin I, and complement membrane attack complex were demonstrated in the same cryostat sections by paired immunofluorescence. Large randomly selected fields were analyzed to determine the number of capillaries per square millimeter of fiber area (capillary density), per 1,000-microns 2 area of each muscle fiber (capillary index), and in 100 x 100-microns grid squares. In dermatomyositis specimens with minimal structural alterations there was focal capillary depletion, the capillary density was significantly reduced, and the frequency distributions of the capillary index and grid count were shifted to the left. In advanced dermatomyositis specimens, the findings were similar but more severe. In both kinds of specimens, clusters of capillaries reacted for complement membrane attack complex. The 2 patients with the highest proportion of vessels positive for membrane attack complex had a fulminant and fatal course. In polymyositis and inclusion body myositis specimens, the capillaries had a normal overall density and none reacted for membrane attack complex. The findings imply that the capillaries are an early and specific target of the disease process in dermatomyositis.