Twelve of 129 black patients with youth-onset diabetes were identified as having an unusual clinical course, with apparent insulin dependence at the time of presentation followed by absence of dependence months to years later. This atypical form of diabetes was found in at least two generations in 9 of the 12 families of the propositi. Fourteen of the diabetic relatives, as well as the 12 propositi, were studied. Islet-cell autoantibodies were not found in any of the patients, and thyroid microsomal auto-antibodies were found in only one. The frequencies of the insulin-dependent-diabetes-associated antigens HLA-DR3 and DR4 were not increased among the propositi, and diabetes did not cosegregate with HLA haplotypes in the informative families. Insulin secretion, as measured by C-peptide responses to a liquid mixed meal (Sustacal), was intermediate between secretion in nondiabetic controls and that in patients with classic insulin-dependent diabetes. Peripheral-blood monocytes expressed increased numbers of insulin receptors as well as decreased empty-site affinities. The atypical form of diabetes in black Americans can be distinguished from classically defined insulin-dependent diabetes and may be best classified as a form of maturity-onset diabetes of youth.