Hyperhomocysteinemia has been shown to constitute an independent risk factor for premature occlusive arterial disease. Moderate hyperhomocysteinemia is present in chronic uremic patients, who often develop premature atherosclerosis, but no direct evidence of an association between the occurrence of atherosclerotic cardiovascular accidents (CVAs) and hyperhomocysteinemia has yet been reported in such patients. We serially determined total plasma homocysteine (Hcy) levels in a cohort of 93 consecutive chronic renal failure, undialyzed patients (57 males, 36 females) with creatinine clearance (Ccr) < 50 ml/min.1.73 m2 and age > or = 50 years at start of follow-up, together with serial assessment of Ccr and blood lipid parameters. From January 1989 to December 1995, 24 patients (group 1) experienced myocardial infarction (18 cases, 13 males) or cerebral infarction (6 cases, 3 males) while the remaining 69 (group 2) remained free of CVAs. Patients in groups 1 and 2 did not differ with respect to age (66 +/- 1.8 vs. 65 +/- 1.1 years, mean +/- Se) or serum creatinine (227 +/- 24 vs. 251 +/- 36 mumol/l) at onset of a CVA (group 1) or at the end of follow-up (group 2). The mean Hcy level was significantly higher in group 1 (20.7 +/- 1.6 vs. 12.8 +/- 0.5 mumol/l, p < 0.0001), as was the proportion of patients with Hcy in excess of 14 mumol/l, the upper limit in healthy controls (83 vs. 30%, p < 0.0001). Logistic regression analysis identified Hcy as an independent risk factor for CVA, with an odds ratio of 11.4 (95% confidence interval 3.5-37.7), which remained significant after adjustment on other variables. We conclude that an elevated Hcy level is associated with a risk of occlusive arterial accidents in patients with chronic renal failure and that hyperhomocysteinemia contributes to the accelerated atherosclerosis complicating chronic uremia.