This study was undertaken to clarify the effect of sulphonylurea therapy on beta cell function in 27 subjects with newly diagnosed Type 2 diabetes mellitus. Plasma glucose, insulin, intact and 32/33 split proinsulin were measured at diagnostic OGTT. After 8-12 weeks on a conventional diet, subjects with a fasting glucose > 9 mmol l-1 (n = 12) were commenced on sulphonylurea therapy. At diagnosis, the sulphonylurea requiring group were more hyperglycaemic (p < 0.0001), less obese (p < 0.05) and more insulin deficient with a lower 30 min insulin (p < 0.0002) than the diet group. Following dietary intervention in the sulphonylurea group, weight remained unchanged but there was a reduction in fasting glucose (p < 0.009). Fasting insulin, intact proinsulin, and 32/33 split proinsulin remained unchanged. After 12 weeks of sulphonylurea therapy there was a weight gain of 1.5 kg (p < 0.01), but a reduction in fasting glucose (p < 0.0001). Fasting insulin and intact proinsulin increased (p < 0.004) but 32/33 split proinsulin remained unchanged. There was a significant increase in both the fasting insulin to glucose ratio (p < 0.005), and intact to 32/33 split proinsulin ratio (p < 0.02). Final fasting glucose following sulphonylurea therapy was positively correlated with the initial intact and 32/33 split proinsulin and the fasting glucose following dietary treatment. It is clear from this work that sulphonylureas have a complex effect on beta cell physiology and as well as stimulating release of insulin they increase the release of intact proinsulin but not that of 32/33 split proinsulin, hence they increase the intact to 32/33 split proinsulin ratio.