Cell-to-cell communication via gap junctions has been proposed to be involved in the metabolic actions of sympathetic liver nerves in the rat. The effects of hepatic nerve stimulation and noradrenaline-, PGF2 alpha- and glucagon infusion on glucose metabolism and perfusion flow were studied in perfused rat liver in the absence and presence of the gap junctional inhibitors, heptanol, carbenoxolone and (4 beta)phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate (4 beta PMA). (i) Stimulation of the hepatic nerve plexus increased glucose output, decreased flow and caused an overflow of noradrenaline into the hepatic vein. (ii) Heptanol completely inhibited not only the nerve stimulation-dependent metabolic and hemodynamic alterations but also the noradrenaline overflow. Thus the heptanol-dependent inhibitions were caused primarily by a strong impairment of transmitter release. (iii) Carbenoxolone inhibited the effects of neurostimulation on glucose metabolism partially by about 50%, whereas it left perfusion flow and noradrenaline overflow essentially unaltered. (iv) 4 beta PMA reduced the nerve stimulation-dependent enhancement of glucose release by about 80% but the noradrenaline-dependent increase in glucose output only by about 30%; the increase in glucose release by PGF2 alpha and by glucagon remained essentially unaltered. 4 beta PMA reduced the nerve stimulation-dependent decrease in portal flow by about 35% but did not affect the noradrenaline-and PGF2 alpha-elicited alterations, nor did it alter noradrenaline overflow. The results allow the conclusion that gap junctional communication plays a major role in the regulation of hepatic carbohydrate metabolism by sympathetic liver nerves, but not by circulating noradrenaline, PGF2 alpha or glucagon.