At and before onset, most insulin-dependent diabetics (IDDM) have islet GAD65 autoantibodies (GAD65Ab). Since IDDM also occurs in older patients where non-insulin-dependent diabetes is common, we studied GAD65Ab at onset to classify diabetes type. Our quantitative immunoprecipitation assay uses recombinant human islet GAD65 stably expressed in hamster fibroblasts. Electrophoretic mobility was identical to native islet GAD65. Like native antigen, recombinant GAD65 migrated as two bands during electrophoresis, but converted to one under stronger reduction. Immunoprecipitation was linear with respect to antibody or antigen concentration. In 120 population-based diabetic patients of all ages grouped by treatment at onset and after 18 mo, GAD65Ab were present in 70% on insulin (n = 37), 10% on oral agent (n = 62, P < 0.0001), 69% changing from oral agent to insulin (n = 16, P < 0.001), and 1 of 33 controls. 65% with GAD65Ab, versus 8% without, changed from oral agent to insulin (P < 0.01). The GAD65Ab quantitative index was remarkably stable, and only 2 of 32 patients changed antibody status during follow-up. Concordance between GAD65Ab and islet cell antibodies was 93%. Quantitative correlation was approximate but significant. This highly sensitive, quantitative, high capacity assay for GAD65Ab reveals treatment requirements better than clinical criteria, perhaps guiding immunomodulatory therapy.