On the basis of the positive outcome of animal experiments, several large placebo-controlled trials are underway and aiming for the first time at the prevention of an immune-mediated disease, type 1 diabetes. The first of these trials, The Deutsche Nicotinamide Intervention Study (DENIS), evaluated the clinical efficacy of high doses of nicotinamide in children at high risk for IDDM. Nicotinamide has been shown to protect beta-cells from inflammatory insults and to improve residual beta-cell function in patients after onset of IDDM. Individuals at high risk for developing IDDM within 3 years were identified by screening the siblings (age 3-12 years) of patients with IDDM for the presence of high titer (> or =20 Juvenile Diabetes Foundation [JDF] U) islet cell antibodies. Probands (n = 55) were randomized into placebo and nicotinamide (slow release, 1.2 g x m(-2) x day(-1)) receiving groups and followed prospectively in a controlled clinical trial using a sequential design. Rates of diabetes onset were similar in both groups throughout the observation period (maximum 3.8 years, median 2.1 years). This sequential design provides a 10% probability of a type II error against a reduction of the cumulative diabetes incidence at 3 years from 30 to 6% by nicotinamide. The trial was terminated when the second sequential interim analysis after the eleventh case of diabetes showed that the trial had failed to detect a reduction of the cumulative diabetes incidence at 3 years from 30 to 6% (P = 0.97). The group receiving nicotinamide exhibited decreased first-phase insulin secretion in response to intravenous glucose (P = 0.03). No other side effects were observed. We conclude that in this subgroup of diabetes-prone individuals at very high risk and with an assumed rapid disease progression, nicotinamide treatment did not cause a major decrease or delay of diabetes development. However, the data do not exclude the possibility of a less strong, but potentially meaningful, risk reduction in this cohort, or a major clinical effect of nicotinamide in individuals with less risk of progression to IDDM than studied here.