Type 2 diabetes is associated with an increased risk of endothelial dysfunction and microvascular complications with impaired autoregulation of tissue perfusion. Both microvascular disease and cardiovascular autonomic neuropathy may affect cerebral autoregulation. In the present study, we tested the hypothesis that, in the absence of cardiovascular autonomic neuropathy, cerebral autoregulation is impaired in subjects with DM+ (Type 2 diabetes with microvascular complications) but intact in subjects with DM- (Type 2 diabetes without microvascular complications). Dynamic cerebral autoregulation and the steady-state cerebrovascular response to postural change were studied in subjects with DM+ and DM-, in the absence of cardiovascular autonomic neuropathy, and in CTRL (healthy control) subjects. The relationship between spontaneous changes in MCA V(mean) (middle cerebral artery mean blood velocity) and MAP (mean arterial pressure) was evaluated using frequency domain analysis. In the low-frequency region (0.07-0.15 Hz), the phase lead of the MAP-to-MCA V(mean) transfer function was 52+/-10 degrees in CTRL subjects, reduced in subjects with DM- (40+/-6 degrees ; P<0.01 compared with CTRL subjects) and impaired in subjects with DM+ (30+/-5 degrees ; P<0.01 compared with subjects with DM-), indicating less dampening of blood pressure oscillations by affected dynamic cerebral autoregulation. The steady-state response of MCA V(mean) to postural change was comparable for all groups (-12+/-6% in CTRL subjects, -15+/-6% in subjects with DM- and -15+/-7% in subjects with DM+). HbA(1c) (glycated haemoglobin) and the duration of diabetes, but not blood pressure, were determinants of transfer function phase. In conclusion, dysfunction of dynamic cerebral autoregulation in subjects with Type 2 diabetes appears to be an early manifestation of microvascular disease prior to the clinical expression of diabetic nephropathy, retinopathy or cardiovascular autonomic neuropathy.