The role of apoliprotein E (apo E) in modulating the susceptibility of individuals with non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) to atherosclerotic vascular disease was studied in 143 male and 128 female patients with NIDDM. The data show that the apolipoprotein phenotype E2 somehow protects from macrovascular complications in NIDDM both in men and women. E2 also tends to protect from microvascular complications. In contrast, apo E phenotypes E4/4 and E4/3 tend to increase the risk for macroangiopathy in NIDDM patients. The lower prevalence of macroangiopathy in the subjects with E2 was associated with lower plasma total and LDL cholesterol concentrations and low plasma lipoprotein(a) levels. Overall, this study demonstrates the role of the apo E phenotype to modulate the risk for diabetic complications in patients with NIDDM. The confirmation of the association of apo E polymorphism with diabetic complications warrants, however, long-term follow-up studies.