Moderate hyperhomocysteinemia, an independent cardiovascular risk factor, has been reported in renal transplant recipients. In the present study, plasma concentrations of total homocysteine were significantly increased in 120 renal transplant recipients as compared with 60 healthy controls (19.0 +/- 6.9 vs. 11.6 +/- 2.8 mumol/L, P < 0.0001) and as compared with 53 patients without a transplant but with a comparable degree of renal failure (19.0 +/- 6.9 vs. 16.0 4.9 mumol/L, P < 0.01). There was a significant inverse correlation between glomerular filtration rates and plasma homocysteine concentrations in the renal transplant recipients (r = -0.52, P < 0.0001). Groups of renal transplant recipients, with and without cyclosporine, and renal patients without a transplant were studied; these groups were comparable regarding age, sex distribution, glomerular filtration rate, and folate and vitamin B12 concentrations. Renal transplant recipients on cyclosporine had significantly higher plasma homocysteine concentrations than those not on cyclosporine (19.5 +/- 7.6 vs. 16.2 +/- 4.8 mumol/L, P < 0.05), and the patients without a transplant (19.5 +/- 7.6 vs. 16.0 +/- 4.9 mumol/L, P < 0.01). Thus, the hyperhomocysteinemia of renal transplant recipients not treated with cyclosporine, and that of renal patients without a transplant probably is explained by the same mechanism: renal insufficiency. An additional mechanism seems to operate in renal transplant recipients treated with cyclosporine. The lack of correlation between the concentrations of plasma homocysteine and red cell folate in these patients suggests that cyclosporine interferes with folate-assisted remethylation of homocysteine. Plasma homocysteine concentrations were significantly increased in 24 patients with a history of atherosclerotic complications as compared with the remaining 96 renal transplant recipients (20.8 +/- 4.4 vs. 18.5 +/- 7.3 mumol/L, P < 0.01).