A common feature of cigarette-smoke (CS)-associated diseases such as atherosclerosis and pulmonary emphysema is the activation, aggregation, and adhesion of leukocytes to micro- and macrovascular endothelium. A previous study, using a skinfold chamber model for intravital fluorescence microscopy in awake hamsters, has shown that exposure of hamsters to the smoke generated by one research cigarette elicits the adhesion of fluorescently labeled leukocytes to the endothelium of arterioles and small venules. By the combined use of intravital microscopy and scanning electron microscopy, we now demonstrate in the same animal model that (i) CS-induced leukocyte adhesion is not confined to the microcirculation, but that leukocytes also adhere singly and in clusters to the aortic endothelium; (ii) CS induces the formation in the bloodstream of aggregates between leukocytes and platelets; and (iii) CS-induced leukocyte adhesion to micro- and macrovascular endothelium and leukocyte-platelet aggregate formation are almost entirely prevented by dietary or intravenous pretreatment with the water-soluble antioxidant vitamin C (venules, 21.4 +/- 11.0 vs. 149.6 +/- 38.7 leukocytes per mm2, P < 0.01; arterioles, 8.5 +/- 4.2 vs. 54.3 +/- 21.6 leukocytes per mm2, P < 0.01; aortas, 0.8 +/- 0.4 vs. 12.4 +/- 5.6 leukocytes per mm2, P < 0.01; means +/- SD of n = 7 animals, 15 min after CS exposure). No inhibitory effect was observed by pretreatment of the animals with the lipid-soluble antioxidants vitamin E or probucol. The protective effects of vitamin C on CS-induced leukocyte adhesion and aggregation were seen at vitamin C plasma levels (55.6 +/- 22.2 microM, n = 7) that can easily be reached in humans by dietary means or supplementation, suggesting that vitamin C effectively contributes to protection from CS-associated cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases in humans.