In order to study the pathophysiology of hypoglycemia in idiopathic ketotic hypoglycemia (KH), glucose kinetics during fasting in patients with KH were determined. A fasting test was performed in 12 children with previously documented KH. Besides determination of glucoregulatory hormones, plasma ketones, FFA and alanine, the rates of endogenous glucose production (EGP), glucose uptake, gluconeogenesis (GNG) and glycogenolysis (GGL) were quantified using the [6,6-(2)H(2)] glucose isotope dilution method and the deuterated water method. The five youngest subjects (age 2.5-3.9 years) became hypoglycemic (glucose <3.0 mmol/l) during the test. Mean differences in glucose kinetics between overnight fasting and the end of the test in the hypoglycemic vs. the normoglycemic subjects were: EGP: -31.9% vs. -17.9% (p = 0.007), GGL: -66.2% vs. -50.8% (p = 0.465) and GNG 6.8% vs. 19.5% (p = 0.465). Plasma alanine levels were significantly lower (p = 0.028) at the end of the test in the hypoglycemic subjects. Plasma ketones and FFA levels were in the normal range for fasting duration in all subjects. We conclude that hypoglycemia in KH is caused by the inability to sustain an adequate EGP during fasting in view of the higher glucose requirement in young children. The decrease in GGL is not accompanied by a significant increase in GNG, possibly because of a limitation in the supply of alanine. Our results support the hypothesis that KH represents the lower tail of the Gaussian distribution of fasting tolerance in children.