To determine the value of antibodies to the intracytoplasmic domain of the tyrosine phosphatase IA-2 (anti-IA-2ic) and glutamic acid decarboxylase (GADA) for identification of subjects at risk for insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM) we investigated 1238 first degree relatives of patients with IDDM for the presence of anti-IA-2ic and GADA and compared the results with cytoplasmic islet cell antibodies (ICA). Anti-IA-2ic were observed in 54 (4.4%) first degree relatives, in 51 of 86 (59.3%) ICA positive relatives and in 3 of 4 individuals who developed overt IDDM within a follow-up period of 1 to 28 months. GADA were found in 78 of 1238 (6.3%) first degree relatives. They were detected in 22 of 35 (62.9%) sera with ICA alone and in 1 of 3 subjects with anti-IA-2ic in the absence of ICA. Of the 1238 subjects 37 (3.0%) sera were positive for all three antibodies. Both anti-IA-2ic and GADA were positively correlated with high levels of ICA. Anti-IA-2ic and GADA were detected in 39.1 and 47.8% of subjects with ICA of less than 20 Juvenile Diabetes Foundation units (JDF-U) but in 66.7 and 76.2% of individuals with ICA of 20 JDF-U or more, respectively (p < 0.05). The levels of ICA and GADA in first degree relatives with at least one additional marker were significantly higher than in subjects with ICA alone (p < 0.005) or GADA alone (p < 0.03). The combination of anti-IA-2ic and GADA identified 84.9% of all ICA positive subjects and 93.7% of individuals with high level ICA (> or = 20 IDF-U). All 4 individuals who progressed to IDDM had either IA-2ic or GADA. Our data indicate that primary screening for anti-IA-2ic and GADA provides a powerful approach with which to identify subjects at risk for IDDM in large-scale population studies which may represent the basis for the design of new intervention strategies.