The ability of glucocorticoids to directly alter arterial function, structure and the inflammatory response to vascular injury may contribute to their well-established link with the development of cardiovascular disease. Recent studies have emphasised the importance of tissue-specific regulation of glucocorticoid availability by the 11 beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (11HSD) isozymes, which inter-convert active glucocorticoids and their inactive metabolites. The expression of both type 1 and type 2 11HSDs in the arterial wall suggests that prereceptor metabolism of glucocorticoids may have a direct impact on vascular physiology. Indeed there is evidence that 11HSDs influence glucocorticoid-mediated changes in vascular contractility, vascular structure, the inflammatory response to injury and the growth of new blood vessels. Hence, inhibition of 11HSD isozymes may provide a novel therapeutic target in vascular disease.