Black Americans (blacks) have a higher prevalence and earlier onset of type 2 diabetes than white Americans (whites). To examine metabolic differences in both races, we measured the basal glucose turnover rates (D-]3-3H]glucose technique) and plasma glucose, insulin, and C-peptide levels before and after an oral glucose load in 24 glucose-tolerant black and 14 white female relatives of patients with type 2 diabetes. Eight black and 8 white female subjects with no family history of diabetes served as controls. Mean fasting and postglucose plasma glucose levels were not significantly different between the black and white relatives and the control subgroups. Mean fasting plasma insulin and C-peptide levels were slightly greater but not significantly different between the relatives. After oral glucose ingestion, mean incremental integrated plasma insulin areas were significantly (P less than 0.02) greater in the black than the white relatives (70 +/- 14 vs. 29 +/- 6 nM.min). In addition, incremental integrated C-peptide areas were greater in the black than the white relatives (303 +/- 55 vs. 115 +/- 33; P less than 0.005). Similarly, we found significantly greater integrated incremental insulin (61 +/- 11 vs. 22 +/- 3 nM.min; P less than 0.02) and C-peptide (248 +/- 58 vs. 47 +/- 16; P less than 0.005) areas in the black than the white controls, respectively. The estimated basal and postglucose hepatic insulin extraction values, expressed as molar ratios of C-peptide and insulin, were not significantly different between the relatives. While basal hepatic insulin extraction was significantly (P less than 0.05) lower in the black controls, the postprandial insulin clearance was not different between the black and white controls. Mean basal hepatic glucose production was greater (P less than 0.02) in the black than the white relatives (2.49 +/- 0.13 vs. 2.02 +/- 0.12 mg/kg.min). Similarly, the black controls had greater hepatic glucose production than the white controls (2.36 +/- 0.15 vs. 1.81 +/- 0.08 mg/kg.min; P less than 0.001). We conclude that basal and poststimulation glucose homeostatic regulation appear to be different in black and white females, regardless of family history of type 2 diabetes.