Glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) and glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptide (GIP) are both incretin hormones regulating postprandial insulin secretion. Their relative importance in this respect under normal physiological conditions is unclear, however, and the aim of the present investigation was to evaluate this. Eight healthy male volunteers (mean age: 23 (range 20-25) years; mean body mass index: 22.2 (range 19.3-25.4) kg/m2) participated in studies involving stepwise glucose clamping at fasting plasma glucose levels and at 6 and 7 mmol/l. Physiological amounts of either GIP (1.5 pmol/kg/min), GLP-1(7-36)amide (0.33 pmol/kg/min) or saline were infused for three periods of 30 min at each glucose level, with 1 h "washout" between the infusions. On a separate day, a standard meal test (566 kcal) was performed. During the meal test, peak insulin concentrations were observed after 30 min and amounted to 223+/-27 pmol/l. Glucose+saline infusions induced only minor increases in insulin concentrations. GLP-1 and GIP infusions induced significant and similar increases at fasting glucose levels and at 6 mmol/l. At 7 mmol/l, further increases were seen, with GLP-1 effects exceeding those of GIP. Insulin concentrations at the end of the three infusion periods (60, 150 and 240 min) during the GIP clamp amounted to 53+/-5, 79+/-8 and 113+/-15 pmol/l, respectively. Corresponding results were 47+/-7, 95+/-10 and 171+/-21 pmol/l, respectively, during the GLP-1 clamp. C-peptide responses were similar. Total and intact incretin hormone concentrations during the clamp studies were higher compared to the meal test, but within physiological limits. Glucose infusion alone significantly inhibited glucagon secretion, which was further inhibited by GLP-1 but not by GIP infusion. We conclude that during normal physiological plasma glucose levels, glucagon-like peptide-1 and glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptide contribute nearly equally to the incretin effect in humans, because their differences in concentration and potency outweigh each other.