Since relative or absolute insulin deficiency and insulin insensitivity are involved in the aetiology of non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM), we examined whether patients with NIDDM exhibit genetic variability in the coding region of insulin receptor substrate-1 (IRS-1), a candidate gene that is ubiquitous in insulin-sensitive and insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF1) sensitive tissues, including those that determine glucose production and clearance and those with regulatory effects on pancreatic beta-cell function. IRS-1 has a central role as an adaptor molecule that links the insulin-receptor and IGF1-receptor kinases with enzymes that regulate cellular metabolism and growth. Single-stranded conformation polymorphism analysis and direct nucleotide sequencing were applied to genomic DNA from 86 unrelated patients with NIDDM and 76 normoglycaemic controls. 10 of the patients with NIDDM and 3 of the controls were heterozygous at codon 972 for a polymorphism in which glycine was substituted with arginine. Moreover, at codon 513, 6 patients with NIDDM and 2 controls had a heterozygous polymorphism with a transition from alanine to proline. None of the polymorphism carriers had both aminoacid variants and the total allelic frequency of IRS-1 polymorphisms was about three times higher in patients with NIDDM than in controls (p = 0.02). Both aminoacid substitutions were located close to tyrosine phosphorylation motifs that are putative recognition sites for insulin and IGF1 signal transmission proteins. Analysis of the phenotypes showed that patients with NIDDM who had IRS-1 variants did not differ in their degree of insulin resistance compared with patients without known IRS-1 polymorphisms. However, carriers of the codon 972 variant had significantly lower plasma levels of fasting insulin and C-peptide. Our results suggest that aminoacid polymorphisms in IRS-1 may be involved in the aetiology of a subset of late-onset NIDDM.