Insulin-dependent diabetic (IDDM) patients with diabetic nephropathy have a highly increased morbidity and mortality from coronary heart disease. An insertion (I) /deletion (D) polymorphism in the angiotensin-I-converting enzyme (ACE) gene has been shown to be associated with coronary heart disease. Therefore, we have investigated the role of this ACE/ID polymorphism in 198 IDDM patients with diabetic nephropathy and 190 normoalbuminuric IDDM patients. The prevalence of myocardial infarction and other coronary heart disease was significantly elevated in patients with nephropathy, 19% (38/198) vs 8% (15/190), p < 0.001. In the nephropathic group 12 of 63 (19%), 23 of 95 (24%), and 3 of 40 (7.5%) patients with the DD, ID and II genotypes, respectively had a history of coronary heart disease, II vs DD and ID, p < 0.05 when compared to nephropathic patients without coronary heart disease. Multiple logistic regression analysis of the risk factors associated with coronary heart disease in univariate analysis revealed that the II genotype acts as an independent protective factor against coronary heart disease, odds ratio II/DD + ID 0.27 (95% confidence interval 0.07-0.97, p < 0.05). There was no difference in genotype or allele frequency (D/I) between patients with and without nephropathy, 0.56/0.44 in both groups, but plasma ACE concentration was elevated in patients with nephropathy 609 (151-1504) ng/ml as compared to patients with normoalbuminuria, 428 (55-1630) ng/ml, p < 0.001. We suggest that ACE/ID polymorphism may influence the frequency of life-threatening cardiac complications in IDDM patients suffering from diabetic nephropathy, a condition characterized by increased plasma ACE concentration.