Individuals with or at risk for insulin-dependent diabetes (IDD) frequently have autoantibodies against an islet cell cytoplasmic (ICA) antigen thought to be a sialoglycolipid. However, we now report that preabsorption of ICA-positive sera with recombinant glutamate decarboxylase (human GAD 65 and/or GAD 67) reduced or blocked the ICA reactivity of 5/18 (27%) new-onset IDD patients and 7/18 (39%) prediabetics. Interestingly, nondiabetic subjects with ICA of > or = 5 yr in duration had GAD-reactive ICA significantly more often (16/24, 67%, P < 0.04) than the diabetic groups. ICA reactivity to GAD was not related to serum ICA titer nor the age of the individual, and in all cases tested was blocked by GAD 65 or GAD 67 with equivalent efficiency. The ICA observed in 21/25 (84%) IDD patients with ICA long after clinical onset of disease (9-42 yr) was reactive to GAD. A natural history analysis of three individuals showed conversions from ICA which was reactive to GAD to a non-GAD-reactive ICA nearer to their clinical onsets of IDD. This study further defines the autoantigens reactive to ICA, and suggests that, whereas ICA that are not reactive to GAD may identify an advanced and more prognostic lesion, GAD-reactive ICA may typify the early or inductive lesion that may or may not progress to clinically significant beta cell injury.