Recently, we showed that rebaudioside A potently stimulates the insulin secretion from isolated mouse islets in a dose-, glucose- and Ca(2+)-dependent manner. Little is known about the mechanisms underlying the insulinotropic action of rebaudioside A. The aim of this study was to define the signalling system by which, rebaudioside A acts. Isolated mouse islets were used in the cAMP[(125)I] scintillation proximity assay to measure total cAMP level, and in a luminometric method to measure intracellular ATP and ADP concentrations. Conventional and permeabilized whole-cell configuration of the patch-clamp technique was used to verify the effect of rebaudioside A on ATP-sensitive K(+)-channels from dispersed single beta cells from isolated mouse islets. Insulin was measured by radioimmunoassay from insulinoma MIN6 cells. In the presence of 16.7 mM glucose, the addition of the maximally effective concentration of rebaudioside A (10(-9) M) increased the ATP/ADP ratio significantly, while it did not change the intracellular cAMP level. Rebaudioside A (10(-9) M) and stevioside (10(-6) M) reduced the ATP-sensitive potassium channel (K(ATP)) conductance in a glucose-dependent manner. Moreover, rebaudioside A stimulated the insulin secretion from MIN6 cells in a dose- and glucose-dependent manner. In conclusion, the insulinotropic effect of rebaudioside A is mediated via inhibition of ATP-sensitive K(+)-channels and requires the presence of high glucose. The inhibition of ATP-sensitive K(+)-channels is probably induced by changes in the ATP/ADP ratio. The results indicate that rebaudioside A may offer a distinct therapeutic advantage over sulphonylureas because of less risk of causing hypoglycaemia.