The high risk of cardiovascular disease in patients with diabetes mellitus, particularly in those with nephropathy, is not completely explained by classical risk factors. A high plasma homocysteine concentration is an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease but information on its association with diabetes is limited. Fasting homocysteine concentrations were measured in the plasma of 165 diabetic patients (75 with insulin-dependent [IDDM]; 90 with non-insulin-dependent diabetes [NIDDM]) and 56 non-diabetic control subjects. Other measurements included the prevalence of diabetic complications, glycaemic control, lipid and lipoprotein levels, vitamin status and renal function tests. Patients with NIDDM had higher homocysteine levels than control subjects, whereas IDDM patients did not (9.2 +/- 4.5 vs 7.7 +/- 2 micromol/l, p < 0.01; and 7.0 +/- 3 vs 7.4 +/- 2 micromol/l, NS). Univariate correlations and multiple regression analysis showed albumin excretion rate to be the parameter with the strongest independent association with homocysteine. Patients with both types of diabetes and nephropathy had higher plasma homocysteine concentrations than those without nephropathy. Increases of homocysteine in plasma were related to increases in the severity of the nephropathy. Fasting hyperhomocysteinaemia was considered as the mean of the plasma homocysteine for all control subjects (7.5 +/- 2.1 micromol/l) + 2 SD (cut-off = 11.7 micromol/l). Nephropathy was present in 80 % of diabetic patients with fasting hyperhomocysteinaemia. In conclusion, increases in fasting homocysteine in diabetic patients are associated with increased albumin excretion rate, especially in those with NIDDM, thus providing a potential new link between microalbuminuria, diabetic nephropathy and cardiovascular disease.