Non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus affects approximately 10% of urban Indian and Indian migrant populations and as such carries major health implications for these groups. Whilst a strong genetic component to the aetiology of non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus is incontestable, progress in identifying the specific genetic determinants involved in its pathogenesis has been slow. In studies of South Indian pedigrees, preliminary segregation analysis indicates that non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus is likely to be a polygenic disease. A number of candidate genes have been studied with the aim of demonstrating either association or linkage with the disease; in South Indians the only positive results thus far have been associations between non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus and the genes for insulin, apolipoprotein D and complement component C4B. However, it seems likely that these genes contribute only a small proportion of the genetic susceptibility to non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus in this ethnic group and that the major genes underlying glucose intolerance remain to be determined.