Non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) is a major public health problem, but its aetiology remains poorly understood. We have performed a comprehensive study of the genetic basis of diabetes in the Goto-Kakizaki (GK) rat, the most widely used animal model of non-obese NIDDM. The genetic dissection of NIDDM using this model has allowed us to map three independent loci involved in the disease. In addition, we identify a major factor affecting body weight, but not glucose tolerance, on chromosome 7 and map a further 10 regions that are suggestive for linkage. We conclude that NIDDM is polygenic and fasting hyperglycaemia and postprandial hyperglycaemia clearly have distinct genetic bases.