Acute insulin responses to glucose (AIRG), glucagon (AIRGln), and arginine (AIRArg) were evaluated prospectively in nine subjects positive for islet-cell antibodies (ICAs) who later progressed to type I diabetes or impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) (progressors), 64 ICA-positive subjects at risk who did not develop type I diabetes, 365 ICA-negative relatives of diabetic patients who also remained free of the disease, and 89 control subjects. Seven progressors already had a low AIRG at entry into the study, and the other two became low responders 3 to 9 months before diabetes or IGT, with a progressive decline of AIRG over serial intravenous (IV) glucose tolerance tests. At entry into the study, the group of progressors displayed lower AIRG, AIRGln, and AIRArg than the other three groups (P<.001). However, AIRArg was less altered than AIRG. During the course of the prediabetic phase, there was a progressive decline in AIRG and AIRGln analyzed as a function either of time (P<.006) or of basal glycemia (P<.05), ie, two different ways of estimating worsening of the disease process. Conversely, there was no significant decrease in AIRArg with time or with increasing basal glycemia, so that AIRArg was not totally blunted in these prediabetic subjects even a few months before the onset of diabetes. The persistence of a substantial response to arginine, ie, higher than the fifth control percentile, even at a late stage, was confirmed in five of nine diabetic patients tested either at onset of the disease or during non-insulin-receiving remission. Whereas AIRG deteriorates during prediabetes, AIRArg appears to be less altered with time and increased basal glycemia, remaining substantial even at the onset of the disease. This reinforces the supposition that the prediabetic state may be associated with a glucose-specific beta-cell functional abnormality in addition to a decreasing beta-cell mass.