Optimal blood glucose levels and normal insulin sensitivity are aims in the treatment of insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM). Insulin sensitivity and insulin reserve are closely interrelated. It is essential to know more about both of these parameters at clinical diagnosis, because their preservation may delay the occurrence of diabetes-related complications. B-cell function is likely to be retained for a longer period in patients with adult onset of the disease compared with children. In this study, intensive insulin treatment was initiated in newly diagnosed adult patients to determine if it preserved endogenous insulin secretion longer than conventional therapy. Forty-nine patients with newly diagnosed diabetes were carefully categorized as having IDDM according to clinical and serological criteria. They were randomized to an intensive (I group) or conventional (C group) insulin therapy and evaluated for 5 years. Every 6 months, a check-up included glucagon-stimulated C-peptide (GSCP), hyperglycemic glucose clamp with arginine bolus, euglycemic-hyperinsulinemic clamp, and screening for microalbuminuria, retinopathy, and neuropathy. At the end of the study, hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) was 6.3% +/- 1.9% in the I patients and 8.1% +/- 2.1% in the C patients (P < .001). Blood glucose concentrations less than 3.5 mmol/L were more frequent in the I group than in the C group (P < .05). Insulin sensitivity (M/I) and GSCP were higher in intensively treated patients after 5 years (M/I, I group 40 +/- 10 nmol x kg(-1) x min(-1) x pmol/L1 v C group 21 +/- 11, P < .005; GSCP, I group 0.6 +/- 0.2 nmol/L v C group 0.19 +/- 0.11, P < .005). The prevalence of peripheral neuropathy was significantly lower in the I group at the end of the study. In conclusion, intensive therapy is more effective in the preservation of insulin action and reserve. In our patients, no case of severe hypoglycemia was observed, indicating that intensive therapy was safe in these patients.