BACKGROUND: Healthy middle-aged postmenopausal women have higher endothelium-dependent dilation and lower vasoconstrictor activity of endothelin-1 than men. Whether these sex-specific differences extend to patients with cardiovascular risk factors has not been investigated. The current study aimed to determine whether, in patients with cardiovascular risk factors, sex-specific differences exist in endothelium-dependent dilation and endothelin-1 activity. METHODS: Forearm blood flow responses were measured by strain-gauge plethysmography during the intra-arterial infusion of acetylcholine, sodium nitroprusside, and the selective endothelin type A receptor blocker BQ-123 in 50 women and 64 men with cardiovascular risk factors. RESULTS: Acetylcholine and sodium nitroprusside induced a significant vasodilation in women and men alike (p < 0.01 for both). Also BQ-123 caused a significant vasodilation (p < 0.001) in both groups. The vasodilator response to acetylcholine was greater in women compared to men; however there were no differences in the response to sodium nitroprusside and BQ-123 (p = NS for both) between the two sex groups. CONCLUSIONS: Middle-aged women with cardiovascular risk factors have significantly higher endothelium-dependent dilation than middle-aged men; however, vascular endothelin 1 activity is similar in the two groups. These findings suggest that the presence of cardiovascular risk factors is associated with sex-specific effects on endothelium-dependent dilation but not on endothelin 1 activity. Further study is needed to confirm our findings and to characterize the mechanisms underlying this sex-specific regulation of endothelial function.