To investigate whether changes in systemic pH influence ketone body production or utilization, total ketone body (TK) kinetics were measured with [3-14C]acetoacetate and D-beta-[1,3-13C2]hydroxybutyrate tracers in overnight fasted subjects during metabolic alkalosis (NaHCO3 infusion) or acidosis [NH4Cl ingestion or arginine (Arg)-HCl infusion]. Somatostatin, with insulin, glucagon, and growth hormone replacement, was infused in all studies. Blood pH and HCO3- (mM) increased from baseline (0-30 min) to 180-210 min by 0.08 +/- 0.02 and 7 +/- 1 with NaHCO3 and decreased by 0.08 +/- 0.2 and 7 +/- 1 or 5 +/- 1 with NH4Cl or Arg-HCl (all P less than 0.005). Over this period blood TK (microM) differed between the NaHCO3 (+198 +/- 65) and both NH4Cl (-90 +/- 53) and Arg-HCl (-154 +/- 55) (P less than 0.05). These changes resulted from parallel alterations in TK production rate of appearance (Ra TK, mumol.kg-1.min-1), because changes from baseline in Ra 14C TK also differed between NaHCO3 (+1.9 +/- 0.8) and NH4Cl (-1.0 +/- 0.6) and Arg-HCl (-2.0 +/- 0.5) (P less than 0.05). Ra TK calculated with single- or dual-tracer techniques were similar. Blood free fatty acids (FFA) increased with NaHCO3, and FFA and glycerol decreased with NH4Cl and Arg-HCl, suggesting that FFA availability mediated the pH effects on hepatic ketogenesis. These results demonstrate that modest changes in systemic pH modify FFA availability and TK production rates.