The loss of early insulin secretion appears to be a critical event in the deterioration in glucose tolerance during the development of type 2 diabetes. There is therefore a strong rationale for developing new antidiabetic agents aimed at restoring or replacing early prandial insulin secretion and thereby curbing mealtime glucose excursions in patients with type 2 diabetes. Four such new agents are either now available (repaglinide and nateglinide) or in clinical development (KAD-1229 and BTS 67 582). Preclinical studies suggest that each of these new insulinotropic agents share a common receptor/effector mechanism with the sulfonylureas (SUs) but that each may have distinct characteristics that differentiate them from the SUs and from each other. Nateglinide and KAD-1229 clearly stimulate biphasic insulin secretion in vitro and in vivo and their effects are rapidly reversible, whereas the effects of repaglinide and BTS 67 582 are prolonged well beyond their removal from perfusion media in vitro or their clearance in vivo. Available data from human studies indicate that the pharmacokinetics of repaglinide and nateglinide are similar, i.e., they are both rapidly absorbed and eliminated, but consistent with findings from animal studies, the insulinotropic and glucose-lowering effects of repaglinide are slower in onset and more prolonged than those of nateglinide. Repaglinide and nateglinide have been shown to be safe and well-tolerated in patients with type 2 diabetes and to produce clinically-meaningful reductions of HbA1c, both alone and in combination with agents with complementary modes of action (e.g., metformin and thiazolidinediones). Because these new agents can potentially bring patients to near normoglycemia without an undue risk of hypoglycemia, they are important additions to the therapeutic armamentarium.