Changes in serum insulin concentrations during deterioration of glucose tolerance were studied in 81 Pima Indians who worsened from normal to impaired glucose tolerance (IGT); 44 who changed from IGT to non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM); 27 who were seen at diagnosis of NIDDM and 1.4-8.5 years later; and 11 subjects who were seen at each of these stages. When their glucose tolerance was normal, subjects who later developed NIDDM had higher fasting and post-load insulin concentrations than controls of similar age and body mass index who did not become diabetic. Onset of IGT or NIDDM was associated with a further increase in fasting insulin concentrations, although a deterioration from IGT to NIDDM was associated with little change in insulin responses to oral glucose in spite of increased blood glucose. After the onset of NIDDM, both fasting and post-load insulin concentrations diminished. These longitudinal data show that, as glucose tolerance worsens, insulin and glucose concentrations in individuals follow the inverted-U-shaped relation previously reported in cross-sectional population studies.