19 insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM) patients participated in a randomized double-blind crossover investigation to investigate the impact of human C-peptide on skin microvascular blood flow. The investigation was also carried out with 10 healthy volunteers. Blood pressure, heart rate, blood sugar, and C-peptide levels were monitored during a 60-min intravenous infusion period of C-peptide (8 pmol kg-1 min-1) or saline solution (154 mmol liter-1 NaCl), and 30 min after stopping the infusion. During the same time period, capillary blood cell velocity (CBV), laser Doppler flux (LDF), and skin temperature were assessed in the feet. In the verum arm, C-peptide levels increased after starting infusion to reach a maximum of 2.3+/-0.2 nmol liter-1 after 45 min, but remained below 0. 15 nmol liter-1 during the saline treatment. Baseline CBV was lower in diabetic patients compared with healthy subjects (147+/-3.6 vs. 162+/-4.2 micron s-1; P < 0.01). During C-peptide administration, CBV in IDDM patients increased progressively from 147+/-3.6 to 167+/-3.7 micron s-1; P < 0.001), whereas no significant change occurred during saline infusion or in healthy subjects. In contrast to the CBV measurements, the investigation of LDF, skin temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, or blood sugar did not demonstrate any significant change during the study. Replacement of human C-peptide in IDDM patients leads to a redistribution in skin microvascular blood flow levels comparable to levels in healthy subjects by increasing the nutritive CBV relative to subpapillary arteriovenous shunt flow.