The reasons for the resistance to ischaemia of peripheral nerves in diabetics are not well understood. We have now explored whether axonal depolarization underlies this phenomenon, as has previously been proposed. Resistance to ischaemia was determined by the new method of "threshold tracking". This method revealed an increase in excitability of the peroneal nerve at the popliteal fossa during ischaemia, and a decrease in excitability in the post-ischaemic period. The extent of these alterations in 28 type 1 diabetics without peripheral neuropathy showed a strong correlation with the mean blood glucose concentrations during the last 24 h before examination. To test whether the ischaemic resistance was related to membrane potential, we also measured axonal superexcitability in 11 selected diabetics, since it has been shown that post-spike changes in excitability depend on membrane potential. Changes in excitability of the peroneal nerve were measured in the period between 10 and 30 msec following a conditioning supramaximal compound action potential. Under resting conditions, no differences in the post-spike superexcitability were found between controls and diabetics, despite striking differences in their responses to a 10-min pressure cuff. These observations indicate that membrane depolarization is not involved in the resistance to ischaemia of motor axons in diabetic subjects.