Enhanced activation of the clotting system has been recently implicated in the pathogenesis of vascular complications in patients with diabetes mellitus. Abnormalities of the anticoagulant system may constitute a potential trigger factor for the haemostatic activation observed in diabetic subjects. The current study aimed to evaluate anticoagulant activity in diabetic patients by assessing the plasma levels of activated protein C-protein C inhibitor complex; and by measuring the anticoagulant response to exogenous thrombomodulin. This study comprised 61 patients (34 men, 27 women) with non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) of whom 22 showed microalbuminuria and 39 normoalbuminuria. Data obtained in 31 non-obese and non-diabetic subjects were available for comparison. The plasma levels of fibrinogen (p < 0.02), prothrombin fragment 1 + 2 (p < 0.05), fibrin monomer (p < 0.0001), protein C antigen (p < 0.005), total protein S antigen (p < 0.02), soluble thrombomodulin (p < 0.005) and soluble E-selectin (p < 0.005) were significantly higher in diabetic patients than in healthy subjects. The plasma level of activated protein C-protein C inhibitor complex (7.4 +/- 3.8 vs 3.0 +/- 0.4 pmol/l) was significantly higher (p < 0.0001) and the anticoagulant response to exogenous thrombomodulin (23.4 +/- 2.6 vs 35.3 +/- 3.0 ng/ml) was markedly lower (p = 0.005) in all diabetic patients than in healthy subjects. Cases with microalbuminuria presented low plasma levels of activated protein C-protein C inhibitor complex (5.5 +/- 0.6 vs 8.6 +/- 0.7 pmol/l, p < 0.05) and significantly decreased values of the anticoagulant response to exogenous thrombomodulin (16.5 +/- 2.9 vs 23.4 +/- 2.6%, p = 0.03) as compared to those with normoalbuminuria. The present study suggests that the hyper-coagulable state in NIDDM is associated with an increased activation of protein C but with a poor plasma reactivity to the anticoagulant effect of thrombomodulin.