The biochemical mechanisms responsible for basal hyperinsulinemia in insulin-resistant states have not been fully defined. We therefore studied pancreatic beta-cell function in vitro to characterize the relative importance of fuel metabolism or secretion via a constitutive pathway in the maintenance of high basal insulin secretion in Zucker diabetic fatty (ZDF) and Zucker fatty (ZF) rats. Insulin secretion from ZF (10+/-1.8 v 5+/-0.6 pmol/ng DNA/h) and ZDF (30+/-4 v 7+/-0.8 pmol/ng DNA/h) islets at 2.8 mmol/L glucose was two to four times greater than secretion from islets of lean littermate control rats. In response to a decreasing glucose concentration (from 12 to 0 mmol/L), a paradoxical increase in insulin secretion was observed in perfused ZDF rat pancreas. Insulin secretion at 2.8 mmol/L glucose was suppressed approximately 70% to 80% in islets from ZDF and ZF rats following exposure to diazoxide, a K+-adenosine triphosphate (K(ATP)) channel opener that inhibits membrane depolarization, or rotenone and oligomycin, agents that inhibit ATP production, or by incubation at 23 degrees C. Inhibition of glycolysis with mannoheptulose, 2-deoxyglucose, and iodoacetate or fatty acid oxidation with a carnitine palmitoyltransferase I inhibitor also significantly inhibited basal insulin secretion in islets of ZDF and ZF rats but not their lean littermates. Furthermore, the glycolytic flux at 2.8 mmol/L glucose was significantly higher in ZDF islets versus ZDF lean littermate (ZLC) islets (2.2+/-0.1 v 3.7+/-0.3 pmol/ng DNA/2 h, P < .01) and was suppressed by mannoheptulose. In ZDF and ZF islets, high basal insulin secretion was maintained despite a 50% reduction in the rate of proinsulin/insulin biosynthesis at 2.8 mmol/L glucose. The rate of proinsulin to insulin conversion and the ratio of proinsulin to insulin secretion by islets of ZDF rats were similar to the values in the lean littermates. Thus, basal hypersecretion in these two insulin-resistant models appears to be related to enhanced fuel metabolism rather than the contribution of a constitutive pathway of secretion.