Major lipoprotein mass and composition were assessed in 45 subjects with insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM), before and after 2 months of intensive insulin therapy (IIT) and in 40 healthy control subjects. As compared to the control group, diabetic subjects at baseline had higher low density lipoprotein (LDL) and lower high density lipoprotein (HDL) masses. Expressing each lipoprotein constituent as a percent of total lipoprotein mass, very low density lipoprotein (VLDL) of diabetic patients was enriched in cholesterol and phospholipid and depleted in triglyceride and protein; IDL had higher triglyceride and phospholipid and lower cholesterol and protein proportion; LDL was depleted in protein and enriched in triglyceride; HDL was depleted in protein and enriched in triglyceride, cholesterol and phospholipid. After 2 months of IIT, HbA1c fell from 10.3 +/- 2 to 7.5 +/- 2% (P < 0.0001) and so did VLDL mass, which was lower than in control subjects. In addition, LDL and HDL masses, as well as triglyceride and cholesterol proportion in IDL particles normalized. The other compositional abnormalities improved without complete normalization. Thus, intensive insulin therapy in IDDM subjects brought quantitative lipoprotein alterations to normal even subnormal range, while most of the composition abnormalities improved without reaching complete normalization.