An autoimmune basis for the pathogenesis of insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM) is supported by the frequent presence of autoantibodies - islet cell antibodies (ICAs) and GAD antibodies (GADab). However, in Chinese patients with clinical IDDM, a low prevalence of ICAs was observed. In non-insulin-dependent diabetic (NIDDM) patients, it has been suggested that the presence of GADab may identify a subset of latent autoimmune diabetes in adults (LADA). We determined the frequency of GADab in a large group of 134 IDDM and 168 NIDDM Chinese patients, and assessed the relation with ICAs status. Results showed that 39.6% IDDM and 16.1% NIDDM patients had GADab, and 20.1% and 4.8%, respectively had detectable ICAs. Frequency of GADab positivity was not influenced by whether the patients had youth or adult-onset IDDM or NIDDM, or by duration of diabetes. NIDDM patients seropositive for GADab shared similar clinical characteristics and fasting C-peptide levels with those who were GADab negative. Presence of GADab therefore did not serve to identify a subgroup of patients with latent or slow-onset IDDM. Half (53%) of our IDDM patients had neither GADab nor ICAs. The reason for this observation is unclear. One theory is that other autoantigens yet to be identified may be contributory. Alternatively, in the Chinese, autoimmunity may not be the major factor in the pathogenesis of IDDM.