In subjects with impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) insulin secretion is impaired. Increased proinsulin/insulin (PI/I) ratios suggest that there is also reduced processing of proinsulin to insulin in this condition. The PI/I ratio in the insulin secretory granule is ideally assessed by plasma measurements in response to acute stimulation of insulin secretion. In the present study we tested the hypothesis that maximal stimulation of insulin secretion results in exhaustion of the proinsulin conversion pathway to insulin. We therefore determined the PI/I ratio in 11 normal glucose-tolerant subjects (NGT) and 11 subjects with IGT in response to glucose (squarewave hyperglycemic clamp, 10 mmol/L), glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1; primed-continuous infusion), and arginine given during the continued GLP-1 infusion. In IGT, insulin levels were significantly lower during the first phase (144 +/- 20 vs. 397 +/- 119 pmol/L; P = 0.02), at the end of the GLP infusion (2142 +/- 350 vs. 5430 +/- 1091 pmol/L; P: = 0.002), and in response to arginine (3983 +/- 375 vs. 8663 +/- 1430 pmol/L; P = 0.005). In response to glucose, the minimum PI/I ratio was significantly higher in IGT (3.4 +/- 0.6%) than in NGT (1.4 +/- 0.5%; P = 0.02), suggesting defective proinsulin processing in this condition. In subjects with IGT, the PI/I ratio decreased significantly after GLP-1 priming (1.7 +/- 0.2%; P = 0.02) and after arginine given during GLP-1 (1.4 +/- 0.2%; P = 0.007) and was not significantly different from those values in NGT (1.3 +/- 0.2% and 1.3 +/- 0.2%, respectively; both P = NS). In conclusion, during maximal stimulation of insulin secretion in subjects with IGT, the PI/I ratio in plasma decreased significantly and was not different from that in normal controls. This strongly argues against the hypothesis that defective processing of proinsulin to insulin represents a major component of the beta-cell dysfunction in IGT.