Skin potential response (SPR), an electrodermal measure of sudomotor nerve function, was shown in this study to examine specifically sympathetic cholinergic fibers by abolition of the response during atropine infusion but not during propranolol infusion. The difference between responses in the left and right arms (SPR-D) was used to assess autonomic nerve function in 136 patients with diabetes and 52 control subjects. In 82% of the diabetic population (112 of 136), SPR-D was >2SD above the mean control response compared with 42% (57 of 137) >2SD below the mean control age-related value for a standard autonomic test predominantly of parasympathetic function, the R-R interval variation with breathing. Of 15 patients with clinical diabetic autonomic neuropathy, SPR wave forms were bizarre or absent in 5 patients compared with 18 of 121 patients′ without clinical autonomic neuropathy (χ 2 = 3.5, P = 0.062). Measurement of SPR-D provides an easily determined measure of sympathetic cholinergic nerve function and may be a useful component of a group of tests for autonomic nerve function in diabetes.