To assess the effects of mild hypoglycemia on cognitive functioning in diabetic children, we used an insulin glucose clamp technique to induce and maintain a hypoglycemic state. Eleven patients, 11 to 18 years of age, completed a series of cognitive tests during a baseline euglycemic state (100 mg/dl (5.5 mmol/L] and repeated those measures at the beginning and end of a hypoglycemic plateau (55 to 65 mg/dl (3.1 to 3.6 mmol/L], and again at restoration of euglycemia. At plasma glucose levels of 60 to 65 mg/dl (3.3 to 3.6 mmol/L), a significant decline in mental efficiency was found. This was most apparent on measures of mental "flexibility" (Trial Making Test) and on measures that required planning and decision making, attention to detail, and rapid responding. Moreover, complete recovery of cognitive function was not contemporaneous with restoration of euglycemia, particularly on those tests requiring rapid responding and decision making (choice reaction time). Not all subjects showed evidence of cognitive impairment during hypoglycemia. The very high degree of intersubject variability suggests that, in addition to plasma glucose values, unknown physiologic variables are responsible for triggering cognitive impairments in school-aged youngsters with diabetes during an episode of mild hypoglycemia.