Antibodies to glutamic decarboxylase (GADAb) are present in insulin-dependent diabetes (IDD) but their association with age and sex and their temporal profile in relation to disease onset have not been fully documented. We have examined the association between GADAb and islet cell antibodies (ICA), age and sex, and have cross-sectionally and longitudinally measured the levels of GADAb before and after diagnosis of IDD. GADAb were measured by allowing serum immunoglobulin prebound to protein A Sepharose to precipitate GAD enzymatic activity from a fetal pig brain extract. GADAb levels were above the normal range (mean + 3SD of healthy controls, 460 nU/ml) in 19/44 (43%) at-risk subjects (ICA positive first degree relatives of persons with IDD), 35/108 (32%) recent-onset IDD subjects and 22/46 (47%) established IDD subjects. When analysed according to age and sex, GADAb levels were significantly higher (P < 0.05) in post-pubertal females in at-risk, recent-onset and established IDD groups. There was a significant association between GADAb and ICA > 20 in both first degree relatives (P < 0.001) and recent-onset subjects (P < 0.01) and GADAb were uncommon in the absence of ICA. Levels of GADAb were similar in at-risk, recent-onset and established IDD subjects and GADAb status remained stable in all but 2/41 at-risk subjects followed for 17 (mean, range 3-33) months. In conclusion, GADAb levels are strongly influenced by age, sex and ICA status, and generally remain stable in at-risk subjects and after the onset of clinical IDD.