Pancreatic beta-cell mitogenesis is increased by insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I) in a glucose-dependent manner. In this study it was found that alternative beta-cell nutrient fuels to glucose, pyruvate, and glutamine/leucine independently induced and provided a platform for IGF-I to induce INS-1 cell DNA synthesis in the absence of serum. In contrast, long chain FFA (>/=C(12)) inhibited 15 mM glucose-induced [(3)H]thymidine incorporation (+/-10 nM IGF-I) by 95% or more within 24 h above 0.2 mM FFA complexed to 1% BSA (K(0.5) for palmitate/1% BSA = 65-85 microM for 24 h; t(0.5) for 0.2 mM palmitate/1% BSA = approximately 6 h). FFA-mediated inhibition of glucose/IGF-I-induced ss-cell DNA synthesis was reversible, and FFA oxidation did not appear to be required, nor did FFA interfere with glucose metabolism in INS-1 cells. An examination of mitogenic signal transduction pathways in INS-1 cells revealed that glucose/IGF-I induction of early signaling elements in SH2-containing protein (Shc)- and insulin receptor substrate-1/2-mediated pathways leading to downstream mitogen-activated protein kinase and phosphoinositol 3'-kinase activation, were unaffected by FFA. However, glucose-/IGF-I-induced activation of protein kinase B (PKB) was significantly inhibited, and protein kinase Czeta was chronically activated by FFA. It is possible that FFA-mediated inhibition of ss-cell mitogenesis contributes to the reduction of beta-cell mass and the subsequent failure to compensate for peripheral insulin resistance in vivo that is key to the pathogenesis of obesity-linked diabetes.