BACKGROUND: Whether microvascular disease contributes to the development of left ventricular hypertrophy (LVH) is unclear. We examined the relationship of retinal microvascular signs with LVH in an African-American population. METHODS: A population-based, cross-sectional study of 1,439 middle-aged African-American participants in Jackson, Mississippi. A retinal photograph of one randomly selected eye was obtained and graded for presence of retinal microvascular signs (focal arteriolar narrowing, arterio-venous (AV) nicking, and retinopathy) according to standardized protocols. Retinal vessel diameter was measured from a computer-assisted technique to define generalized arteriolar narrowing. LVH was defined from standardized echocardiography. RESULTS: In age and gender-adjusted models, retinal microvascular signs (except non-diabetic retinopathy) were significantly associated with LVH, with an odds ratio (OR) of 1.64 (95% confidence interval (CI) 1.29-2.09) for generalized arteriolar narrowing, OR 1.82 (95% CI 1.33-2.50) for focal arteriolar narrowing, and OR 1.35 (95% CI 1.02-1.79) for AV nicking. With further adjustment for cardiovascular (serum total cholesterol, fasting glucose, diabetes, diabetes duration, smoking, body mass index (BMI), waist-to-hip ratio, and exercise level) and hypertension-related factors (mean arterial blood pressure (MABP) at the time of retinal photography and antihypertensive medication use), associations were attenuated but remained significant for generalized and focal arteriolar narrowing, with OR 1.35 (95% CI 1.02-1.78) and OR 1.66 (95% CI 1.16-2.38), respectively. CONCLUSIONS: Middle-aged African Americans with generalized and focal retinal arteriolar narrowing were more likely to have LVH. This association was explained only partly by cardiovascular risk factors and hypertension.