Hypoinsulinemia characteristic to type 1 diabetes may theoretically inhibit the conversion of essential fatty acids to their longer-chain metabolites. Fatty acids were determined in plasma and erythrocyte membrane lipids in young diabetic adults (n=34) and in age-matched healthy controls (n=36). Values of linoleic acid (56.01 [5.02] versus 51.05 [7.32], % by wt, median [range from the first to the third quartile], P<0.00l) and arachidonic acid (AA) (11.17 [2.98] versus 9.69 [1.95] P<0.001) were significantly higher in diabetic subjects than in controls. However, alpha-linolenic acid values did not differ, and docosahexaenoic acid (0.43 [0.12] versus 0.57 [0.29], P<0.01) values were significantly lower in diabetic than in control subjects. Significant inverse correlations were found between AA and hemoglobin A(1c) values in the phospholipid (r=-0.40, P<0.05) and sterol ester (r=-0.40, P<0.05) fractions. The data obtained in the present study suggest that the availability of n-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid may be reduced in young diabetic adults.