Elevated oxidative stress, hyperglycaemia, and dyslipidaemia involving low levels of HDL particles are key proatherogenic factors in type 2 diabetes mellitus. We examined the relationship of oxidative stress, and the degree of glycaemia and triglyceridaemia, to antioxidative function of HDL particle subspecies in type 2 diabetes. Five HDL subfractions (2b, 2a, 3a, 3b, 3c) were isolated by density gradient ultracentrifugation from well-controlled type 2 diabetic subjects (n=20) and normolipidaemic, non-diabetic controls (n=10). Specific antioxidative activity (capacity to protect LDL from oxidation on a unit particle mass or on a particle number basis), chemical composition and enzymatic activities were measured in each subfraction. Systemic oxidative stress was assessed as plasma levels of 8-isoprostanes. Specific antioxidative activity of small dense HDL3b and 3c particles in diabetic patients was significantly diminished (up to -47%, on a particle mass or particle number basis) as compared with controls. Plasma 8-isoprostanes were markedly elevated (2.9-fold) in diabetic patients, were negatively correlated with both specific antioxidative activity of HDL3 subfractions and plasma HDL cholesterol (HDL-C) levels, and were positively correlated with glycaemia and triglyceridaemia. Paraoxonase 1 activity was consistently lower in diabetic HDL subfractions and was positively correlated with HDL3 antioxidative activity. The altered chemical composition of diabetic HDL3 subfractions (core cholesteryl ester depletion, triglyceride enrichment) was equally correlated with diminished antioxidative activity. Antioxidative activity of small dense HDL is deficient in type 2 diabetes, is intimately linked to oxidative stress, glycaemia and hypertriglyceridaemia and primarily reflects abnormal intrinsic physicochemical properties of HDL particles.