Diabetes mellitus is largely determined by genetic factors but environmental factors are necessary to convert genetic susceptibility into overt disease. Studies of twins show that the genetic impact in non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus is stronger than in insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus. The genetic factors involved in non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus are not known and the outcome of molecular genetic research has so far been disappointing. The major genetic susceptibility to insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus is conferred by genes in the HLA region on chromosome 6. Despite many advances in molecular genetics in insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus the serologically detectable HLA antigens and haplotypes are still the best available markers. This review describes the important developments in immunogenetics in insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus and summarises the main findings from earlier studies. Genetically the potential for primary prevention of insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus already exists and will become a reality as soon as the environmental determinants are identified. A wide application of immunogenetic methods will be needed in the prevention of insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus.