There is growing recognition that the O-linked attachment of N-acetyl-glucosamine (O-GlcNAc) on serine and threonine residues of nuclear and cytoplasmic proteins is a highly dynamic post-translational modification that plays a key role in signal transduction pathways. Numerous proteins have been identified as targets of O-GlcNAc modifications including kinases, phosphatases, transcription factors, metabolic enzymes, chaperons, and cytoskeletal proteins. Modulation of O-GlcNAc levels has been shown to modify DNA binding, enzyme activity, protein-protein interactions, the half-life of proteins, and subcellular localization. The level of O-GlcNAc is regulated in part by the metabolism of glucose via the hexosamine biosynthesis pathway (HBP), and the metabolic abnormalities associated with insulin resistance and diabetes, such as hyperglycemia, hyperlipidemia, and hyperinsulinemia, are all associated with increased flux through the HBP and elevated O-GlcNAc levels. Increased HBP flux and O-GlcNAc levels have been implicated in the impaired relaxation of isolated cardiomyocytes, blunted response to angiotensin II and phenylephrine, hyperglycemia-induced cardiomyocyte apoptosis, and endothelial and vascular cell dysfunction. In contrast to these adverse effects, recent studies have also shown that O-GlcNAc levels increase in response to acute stress and that this is associated with increased cell survival. Thus, while the relationship between O-GlcNAc levels and cellular function is complex and not well-understood, it is clear that these pathways play a critical role in the regulation of cell function and survival in the cardiovascular system and may be implicated in the adverse effects of metabolic disease on the heart. © 2006 European Society of Cardiology.