Beta-cell secretion and insulin sensitivity was studied in healthy subjects and newly diagnosed Caucasian (Welsh) NIDDM patients. A standardized meal tolerance test (MTT) and frequent sampled intravenous glucose tolerance tests (FSIVGTT) were employed and the patients stratified according to fasting plasma glucose (FPG). A deficient early (first hour) post-prandial (MTT) insulin secretion was demonstrated in all NIDDM patients, deteriorating with increasing fasting hyperglycaemia. For the patient group fasting and post-prandial hyperproinsulinaemia was evident with diminishing post-prandial excursions as fasting hyperglycaemia increased. The early phase (0-10 min) insulin secretion to intravenous glucose (300 mg kg-1) was severely impaired in NIDDM patients. A shortlived paradoxical fall in plasma insulin concentrations was observed in those with FPG > 9 mmol l-1. Insulin sensitivity utilizing the insulin modified FSIVGTT demonstrated that all NIDDM patients had marked insulin insensitivity. Characteristic of the newly diagnosed previously untreated Caucasian NIDDM is a dysfunctional beta cell, resulting in a deficit in insulin secretion with relative hyperproinsulinaemia. The quantitative and qualitative secretory status of the beta cell decreases with increasing fasting hyperglycaemia. Insulin sensitivity is markedly reduced when FPG exceeds 7.0 mmol l-1 with little or no further discernible fall with deteriorating glycaemic control.