The factors responsible for atherosclerosis in renal transplant recipients are not known. In the present study, cardiovascular disease was investigated in 403 patients who received 464 kidney transplants during a 10-year period. Among those who had no clinical evidence of vascular disease at the time of transplantation, atherosclerotic complications developed in 15.8 percent during the post-transplant follow-up period (46.1 +/- 36.2 months). Pre- and post-transplant vascular diseases were closely linked. However, after taking pre-transplant vascular disease into account, multivariate analysis showed that a number of known risk factors (age, sex, diabetes, cigarette smoking, hypertension, and serum cholesterol) were independently associated with post-transplant vascular disease. In addition, the number of acute rejection episodes (all treated with high doses of corticosteroids) was also independently linked to vascular disease. These results suggest that an increased prevalence of known risk factors, and events linked to allograft rejection, explain the high incidence of cardiovascular disease in renal transplant recipients.