The present study evaluated the substrate competition between fatty acids (FA) and glucose in the kidney in vivo in relation to the operation of the "glucose-FA" and "reverse glucose-FA" cycles. In fed rats, neither inhibition of adipocyte lipolysis by 5-methylpyrazole-3-carboxylic acid (MPCA) nor inhibition of mitochondrial long-chain FA oxidation by 2-tetradecylglycidate (TDG) influenced the renal ratio of free/acylated carnitine or the percentage of total renal pyruvate dehydrogenase complex (PDHC) in the active (dephosphorylated) form (PDHa). The additional provision of glucose, a precursor for the synthesis of malonyl-coenzyme A (coA), did not influence renal PDHa activity or the renal ratio of free to acylated carnitine, implying that FA oxidation is maximally suppressed in the fed state. A reverse glucose-FA cycle may therefore be important in suppressing renal FA oxidation in the fed state. After 48 hours of starvation, MPCA and TDG decreased short- and long-chain acylcarnitine concentrations (40% to 50%, P < .01) and elevated the renal ratio of free/acylated carnitine (2.5-fold, P < .001, and 3.3-fold, P < .001, respectively), indicating that FA oxidation is increased after starvation. Despite suppression of renal FA oxidation, renal PDHa activity in 48-hour starved rats was only partially restored by treatment with MPCA or TDG. The additional administration of glucose did not remedy this. The failure to reverse completely the effects of prolonged starvation in suppressing PDHC activity by acute inhibition of FA oxidation suggests additional regulatory mechanisms that dampen the PDHC response to acute changes in substrate supply. Estimations of PDH kinase (PDK) activity in renal mitochondria showed a significant 1.7-fold stable increase (P < .01) after 48 hours of starvation. Analysis of PDK pyruvate sensitivity in renal mitochondria incubated with respiratory substrate (5 mmol/L 2-oxoglutarate/0.5 mmol/L L-malate) showed that the pyruvate concentration required for 50% activation was substantially decreased by starvation. Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) analysis over a range of PDHC activities demonstrated that increased PDK activity was concomitant with a significant (at least P < .01) 1.8-fold increase in the protein expression of the ubiquitously expressed PDK isoform, PDK2. We hypothesize that changes in protein expression and activity of individual PDK isoforms may dictate the renal response to incoming FA lesterification v oxidation) through modulation of the relationship between glycolytic flux and PDHC activity, and thus the provision of precursor for malonyl-coA production.