We compared the development of sciatic nerve neuropathy in young diabetic rats with that in non-diabetic aged rats. Diabetes was induced in six-month old rats by injection with alloxan and was moderately controlled by single daily injections of insulin. Blood insulin levels in diabetic rats were significantly reduced compared to the aged animals, and glucose was significantly higher in diabetic rats. Sciatic nerve conduction velocities were measured monthly. Both motor and sensory conduction velocities decreased in the diabetic rats to a level that was similar to those in 36-month old rats. The decreases in conduction velocities in the diabetic rats were most dramatic during months 6 through 12 of diabetes. After 6 and 12 months of diabetes, sciatic nerves were examined by electron microscopy and compared to nerves from 24- and 36-month old rats respectively. Ultrastructural changes in the sciatic nerves of diabetic rats at 6 months included disruptions of myelin and dense axoplasm. In comparison, the 24-month old rats only had distorted contours of the nerve fibres. After 12 months of diabetes, the axoplasm had large spaces and the myelin was thickened and deformed. The axoplasm of 36-month old rats was normal in appearance; however the myelin sheath was thickened and split into layers. The Schwann cells were vacuolated and irregular in shape. These observations indicate that diabetes results in the early onset of age-like changes in the sciatic nerve. It suggests that the control of hyperglycemia in humans may preserve sciatic nerve structure and function.