Cytosolic alpha-ketoglutarate is a potential signalling compound at late steps of stimulus-secretion-coupling in the course of insulin secretion induced by glucose and other fuels. This hypothesis is mainly based on the insulin-releasing effect of the membrane permeable ester dimethyl alpha-ketoglutarate which enters the beta-cell and is cleaved to produce cytosolic monomethyl alpha-ketoglutarate and eventually alpha-ketoglutarate. The present study tested this hypothesis. Insulin release, K(ATP) channel currents, membrane potential, ATP/ADP ratio and fluorescence of NAD(P)H (reduced pyridine nucleotides) were measured in mouse pancreatic islets and beta-cells. At a substimulatory glucose concentration (5 mM), dimethyl alpha-ketoglutarate (15 mM) produced a sustained insulin release, but no change of the islet ATP/ADP ratio and NAD(P)H fluorescence. In the absence of glucose, however, dimethyl alpha-ketoglutarate (15 mM) did not stimulate insulin release although it increased the ATP/ADP ratio and NAD(P)H fluorescence. Insulin secretion induced by a maximally effective concentration of the K(ATP) channel-blocking sulfonylurea glipizide was strongly amplified by dimethyl alpha-ketoglutarate in the presence of 5 mM glucose, but only moderately in the absence of glucose. Dimethyl alpha-ketoglutarate directly inhibited K(ATP) channels in inside-out membrane patches, depolarized the plasma membrane of intact beta-cells and generated action potentials. In conclusion, the stimulation of insulin secretion by extracellularly applied dimethyl alpha-ketoglutarate depends on inhibition of beta-cell K(ATP) channels by direct action of dimethyl alpha-ketoglutarate. The metabolism of alpha-ketoglutarate generated intracellularly by ester cleavage contributes to stimulation of insulin secretion both by indirect K(ATP) channel inhibition (via activation of ATP production) and by an amplifying effect.