OBJECTIVES: To examine the prevalence of hyperhomocysteinaemia and compare it with the classic risk factors and vitamin status in Hong Kong Chinese patients with premature atherosclerotic coronary artery disease. DESIGN: Case-control study. SETTING: General hospital and community. SUBJECTS: Forty five patients (39 males) with significant coronary artery disease confirmed by angiography (32 post myocardial infarction) and 23 healthy volunteers (17 male), all aged less than 55 years. INTERVENTION: Standardised methionine-loading test. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Coronary artery disease, risk factors. RESULTS: More patients than controls had fasting hyperhomocysteinaemia (10/45 v 2/23, P = 0.122), post-methionine hyperhomocysteinaemia (17/45 v 1/23, P = 0.008), and an abnormal response to methionine (15/45 v 1/23, P = 0.015). A history of smoking was more frequent in patients (3/23 v 25/45, P = 0.002). Sixteen of 17 patients with hyperhomocysteinaemia but only nine of 28 with normohomocysteinaemia were smokers (P = 0.0002). Fasting plasma cholesterol concentrations (mean (SD)) were higher in hyperhomocysteinaemic patients (6.41 (1.58) mmol/l) than in controls (5.53 (0.90) mmol/l) (P = 0.042). Serum vitamin B-12 was not reduced and serum folate was higher in hyperhomocysteinaemic patients (35 (4) nmol/l) than normohomocysteinaemic patients (26 (9) nmol/l) (P = 0.009). CONCLUSIONS: Although the prevalence of hyperhomocysteinaemia in Hong Kong Chinese is similar to that in white subjects, hyperhomocysteinaemia is not an independent risk factor for coronary artery disease and is associated with smoking. This may be of some consequence in view of the change to a more Western diet with more animal protein, and therefore methionine, coupled with a high frequency of cigarette smokers in this region. The causes of the hyperhomocysteinaemia are multifactorial but in this pilot study a deficiency of folate and/or vitamin B-12 did not seem to be one of them.