Type I diabetes (TID) is an autoimmune disease characterized in part by the presence of autoantibodies directed against glutamic acid decarboxylase 65 (GAD65), among other pancreatic islet antigens. We investigated the independent epitope specificities of these GAD65 antibodies (GAD65Ab) and their combinations in the sera of new onset TID patients and first-degree relatives positive for GAD65Ab. For our analysis, we used four GAD65-specific recombinant Fabs (rFabs) that recognize different conformational determinants of GAD65 located throughout the molecule, including the N-terminal, the middle and the C-terminal regions. We used these epitope-specific rFabs in competition assays to determine the binding specificity of the autoantibodies found in patient sera. Among the 61 sera from newly diagnosed GAD65Ab-positive TID patients GAD65 binding was competed for 23 sera by all four rFabs, 29 by at least two rFabs, and in nine sera were displaced by one or no rFab. In contrast, none of the 24 sera from GAD65Ab-positive first-degree relatives of TID patients were displaced by all four rFabs. When using all four rFabs simultaneously to compete with GAD65Ab binding, binding of sera from TID patients was reduced by an average of 70%. A significantly weaker competition was observed when evaluating sera of GAD65Ab-positive first-degree relatives (P < 0·0001).