To investigate the role of the Maillard reaction in the pathogenesis of diabetic complications, we produced several clones of monoclonal antibodies against advanced glycation end products (AGEs) by immunizing mice with AGE-modified keyhole limpet hemocyanin, and found that one clone (AG-1) of the anti-AGE antibodies reacted specifically with imidazolones A and B, novel AGEs. Thus, the imidazolones, which are the reaction products of the guanidino group of arginine with 3-deoxyglucosone (3-DG), a reactive intermediate of the Maillard reaction, were found to be common epitopes of AGE-modified proteins produced in vitro. We determined the erythrocyte levels of imidazolone in diabetic patients using ELISA with the monoclonal anti-imidazolone antibody. The imidazolone levels in the erythrocytes of diabetic patients were found to be significantly increased as compared with those of healthy subjects. Then we studied the localization of imidazolone in the kidneys and aortas obtained from diabetic patients by immunohistochemistry using the antibody. Specific imidazolone immunoreactivity was detected in nodular lesions and expanded mesangial matrix of glomeruli, and renal arteries in an advanced stage of diabetic nephropathy, as well as in atherosclerotic lesions of aortas. This study first demonstrates the localization of imidazolone in the characteristic lesions of diabetic nephropathy and atherosclerosis. These results, taken together with a recent demonstration of increased serum 3-DG levels in diabetes, strongly suggest that imidazolone produced by 3-DG may contribute to the progression of long-term diabetic complications such as nephropathy and atherosclerosis.