In contrast to autoantibodies that are functionally silenced or deleted, IgG Abs that react with autologous insulin routinely follow hormone administration and arise spontaneously in autoimmune (type I) diabetes mellitus. To understand Ab interactions with autologous insulin, rat proinsulin I and 32 alanine substituted analogues were expressed as fusion proteins and used to examine 16 anti-insulin mAb in ELISA. The results identify several amino acid residues that contribute to binding by a large majority (>75%) of mAb, although no single residue is uniformly required for binding by all mAb. Replacements at charged or polar residues on the insulin surface including A4 (Asp), A5 (Gln), A9 (Ser) A12 (Ser), A17 (Gln), A18 (Asn), B13 (Glu), and B21 (Glu) consistently decreased mAb binding. Single alanine substitutions at positions A16 (Leu), A11 (Cys), B8 (Gly), and B15 (Leu) that are predicted to alter the core structure or chain folding vary widely in their impact on Ab binding. mAb that bind insulin preferentially on solid phase (i.e., ELISA) are highly sensitive to replacement of single residues, and substitutions that alter conformation abolish binding. In contrast, high affinity mAb that bind insulin in solution are relatively insensitive to substitutions at single residues, and they maintain binding to all mutants, including those with disrupted conformation. For such high affinity mAb, replacement of long hydrophobic side chains can augment binding, suggesting mAb interactions with insulin include an induced fit. Thus, the ability of insulin to function as a "molten globule" may contribute to the diversity and autoreactivity of the anti-insulin repertoire.