Abnormal cardiac muscle function has been reported in experimental diabetes mellitus from this laboratory. To examine left ventricular performance in diabetic patients without clinical evidence of myocardial ischemia or other cardiovascular disease, a noninvasive measurement of the systolic time intervals was carried out. Simultaneous recordings of the electrocardiogram, heart sounds, and carotid pulse were made in 25 diabetic subjects, 20 to 56 years of age, and compared with 37 normal subjects. The diabetic subjects had a shorter left ventricular ejection time, longer pre-ejection period, and a higher ratio of pre-ejection period/left ventricular ejection time (P less than 0.001). The isovolumic time was prolonged (P less than 0.001), while heart rate and arterial pressure were within normal limits. Abnormal function was independent of apparent duration and treatment by diet alone, insulin, or hypoglycemic agents. On the basis of available morphologic data in human and canine diabetes, an alteration of the myocardial interstitium may be the basis for this preclinical abnormality in diabetic patients.