Recent studies have shown that insulin autoantibodies occur in patients with newly diagnosed insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM) before exogenous insulin treatment. Our study was designed to test the hypothesis that insulin autoantibodies, like cytoplasmic islet cell antibodies (ICAs), can identify individuals with ongoing autoimmune beta-cell destruction and increased risk of IDDM development. Insulin autoantibodies detected by use of a radioligand-binding assay were found in 1.4% of normal controls, 4% of first-degree relatives of IDDM patients, and in 37% of newly diagnosed IDDM patients. A strong positive correlation between insulin autoantibodies and ICAs was observed. HLA typing of insulin-autoantibody-positive first-degree relatives of IDDM patients, as well as in the general population, revealed a strong association with HLA-DR3 and/or-DR4, suggesting that insulin autoantibodies are restricted to persons genetically susceptible to IDDM. In an ongoing study of beta-cell function in ICA-positive nondiabetic individuals, the additional presence of insulin autoantibodies significantly increased the likelihood of beta-cell dysfunction. After intravenous glucose stimulation, insulinopenia was present in 70% of ICA and insulin-autoantibody-positive individuals in contrast to only 23% of ICA-positive, insulin-autoantibody-negative persons. These data document a significant association between insulin autoantibodies and ICAs and support the contention that insulin autoantibodies, like ICAs, are markers of ongoing beta-cell destruction.