Diabetes mellitus is a major risk factor for atherosclerosis. Since endothelial alteration is probably associated with the development of atherosclerosis, we questioned whether morphological evidence of endothelial injury could be observed during the first 6 months of diabetes induced by a single intravenous injection of alloxan in normally fed rabbits compared with age-matched controls. Diabetes (plasma glucose greater than 16 mM) was established by 5 days after alloxan injection. Endothelial alterations consistent with injury, including adhesion of white blood cells, platelets, and fibrin-like material to the endothelial surface, were seen in diabetic rabbit aortas by 2 weeks. These alterations became more severe during the next 6 months. Increased endothelial replication in diabetic vessels was shown by the uptake of tritium-labeled thymidine at 2 weeks and at 3 and 6 months. Hyperplasia of intimal smooth muscle cells progressed during 3 months after treatment. About one third of the diabetic rabbits also showed an elevated plasma cholesterol level, which correlated with increased intimal proliferation but not with endothelial injury or replication. The onset of alloxan-induced diabetes in rabbits is associated with nondenuding endothelial injury and subsequent intimal hypertrophy, changes that are consistent with atherogenesis.