We examined sequential changes in the subsets of mononuclear cells infiltrating the pancreatic islets and splenic lymphocytes in pre-diabetic non-obese diabetic (NOD) mice, an animal model for type I diabetes, using immunofluorescent techniques. In the pancreas, a predominant infiltration by activated T lymphocytes, including helper inducer and cytotoxic suppressor T cells, was observed in the early stage of insulitis. Natural killer cells were also detected in the lesions. Immunoglobulin bearing cells tended to increase in number with the progression of insulitis. T lymphocytes were localized close to islet cells, while immunoglobulin bearing cells appeared adjacent to blood vessels and around T cell clusters. Immunoglobulin deposition or Ia expression on islet cells was not observed. The percentage of splenic T lymphocytes was markedly increased in the initial stage of insulitis as compared with control ICR mice and this elevated proportion of T cells continued throughout the observation period. As for splenic T cell subsets, cytotoxic suppressor T cells were increased in NOD mice. These results suggest that T lymphocytes play an important role in the initiation of insulitis long before the onset of overt diabetes. Moreover, NOD mice seem to have characteristic immunological features different from the BB rat or a reported case with human type I diabetes.