This report has investigated desensitization of pancreatic B cell secretion, or diminution of the insulin response to chronic stimulation. Freshly isolated rat islets were continuously challenged with various secretagogues over 24 h either in batch incubation or in a computer-controlled, flow-through perifusion system. At various glucose concentrations, secretion rose to a peak level in the third hour, then dropped to a new desensitized secretory level which was 25% or less than that of the maximum rate. The amount of insulin secreted was glucose dependent although secretory kinetics were independent of the amount of hormone secreted. At all glucose concentrations the reduction in islet insulin content was not great enough to account for the observed degree of desensitization. Furthermore at hour 20, islets responded vigorously to an alternate stimulus, indicating insulin stores and islet secretory machinery were still capable of being stimulated. Addition of 3-isobutyl-1-methylxanthine or forskolin did not prevent glucose-induced desensitization. Insulin secretion desensitized similarly to nonglucose (alpha-ketoisocaproic acid) and nonfuel (phorbol ester) stimuli. Glucose potentiation of a terminal KIC response, although demonstrable after 20 h of chronic glucose, was diminished somewhat compared to that after 3 h of chronic glucose. Delaying glucose stimulation by 6 h reduced insulin secretion, yet desensitization persisted. Although insulin secretion entrained to a glucose signal which oscillated from 1.3-12.7 mM in sine wave pulses of 90-min frequency, desensitization was not prevented. Thus, desensitization occurred in response to glucose, nonglucose, and nonfuel stimuli and despite delayed or oscillating signals. We conclude that exhaustion of a finite insulin compartment is not the underlying defect in desensitized secretion and suggest that metabolic feedback or recruitment of multiple heterogeneous compartments may explain this phenomenon.