Islet autoantibodies are early markers for Type I (insulin-dependent) diabetes mellitus. The aim of this study was to establish whether islet autoantibodies were present at birth in children who developed Type I diabetes before 15 years of age. Cord blood sera from 81 children who developed Type I diabetes between 10 months and 14.9 years of age were tested for glutamic acid decarboxylase autoantibodies (GAD65Ab), islet cell antigen 512 autoantibodies (ICA512Ab), insulin autoantibodies (IAA) all by quantitative radioligand binding assays and islet cell autoantibodies (ICA) by indirect immunofluorescence. Cord blood sera from 320 randomly selected matched children were controls. The children who developed Type I diabetes had an increased frequency of cord blood islet autoantibodies compared with control subjects: Glutamic acid decarboxylase autoantibodies were detected in 6% (5/81) patients and 2% (5/320) control subjects (p = 0.03); islet cell antigen 512 autoantibodies in 5% (4/73) patients and 1% (4/288) control subjects (p = 0.06); insulin autoantibodies (IAA) in 0% (0/79) patients and 0.3% (1/320) control subjects (p = 0.36); and islet cell autoantibodies in 10% (8/81) patients compared with 0.6% (2/320) control subjects (p = 0.0001). Taken together, 17% (14/81) patients had one or more islet autoantibody compared with 4% (12/320) control subjects (p = 0.0001). Whereas none of the control children had more than one antibody, 4% (3/81) children who later developed Type I diabetes were double positive (p = 0.002). Although glutamic acid decarboxylase autoantibodies' concentrations in cord-blood correlated to those in the mothers' blood at the time of delivery, no corresponding correlation was found for the other two types of autoantibodies. The increased frequency of cord blood islet autoantibodies suggests that the Type I diabetes process could already be initiated in utero.