It has been hypothesized that microvascular dysfunction affects endothelial dysfunction of the large arteries, which may explain the relationship of microvascular disease with macrovascular disease. The aim of the present study was to investigate the relationship of retinal microvascular disorders with endothelium-dependent FMD (flow-mediated vasodilatation) and carotid IMT (intima-media thickness). A total of 256 participants, aged 60-85 years, 70 with normal glucose metabolism, 69 with impaired glucose metabolism and 109 with Type II diabetes, were included in this study. All participants were ophthalmologically examined, including funduscopy and two field 45° fundus photography, and were graded for retinal sclerotic vessel abnormalities and retinopathy. Retinal arteriolar and venular diameters were measured with a computer-assisted method. Brachial artery, endothelium-dependent FMD and carotid IMT were assessed ultrasonically as measurements of endothelial function and early atherosclerosis respectively. After adjustment for age, sex and glucose tolerance status, retinal vessel diameters, retinal sclerotic vessel abnormalities and retinopathy were not significantly associated with FMD. In contrast with other retinal microvascular abnormalities, retinal venular dilatation was associated with increased IMT [standardized β value (95% confidence interval), 0.14 (0.005-0.25)]. This association was attenuated and lost statistical significance after adjustment for cardiovascular risk factors, in particular after correction for fasting insulin. In the present study, retinal microvascular disorders are not independently associated with impaired FMD. In addition, retinal venular dilatation is associated with increased IMT, although non-significantly after multivariable adjustment for cardiovascular risk factors. Therefore our data provide evidence that retinal microvascular disease is of limited value in risk stratification for future cardiovascular events. © 2006 The Biochemical Society.