Diabetes patients often show increased production of reactive oxidative species (ROS) together with vascular complications. The presence of these ROS may lead to increased DNA damage in peripheral blood lymphocytes that may be revealed by the comet assay. To test whether DNA is damaged in diabetes, peripheral blood samples were taken from 30 control individuals and 63 diabetic patients (15 insulin dependent (IDDM) and 48 non-insulin dependent (NIDDM)) and the alkaline comet assay was used to evaluate background levels of DNA damage. Significant differences were detected between control and diabetic patients in terms of frequencies of damaged cells. The extend of DNA migration was greater in NIDDM patients by comparison with IDDM patients which might indicate that IDDM patients are handling more oxidative damage on a regular basis. Smoker individuals had higher frequencies of cells with migration by comparison with the non-smokers in both groups. Also, clear differences between patients on placebo and on Vitamin E supplementation for 12 weeks were observed on the basis of the extend of DNA migration during single cell gel electrophoresis. (C) 2001 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.