While normal aging is characterized by resistance to insulin-mediated glucose disposal (IMGU), the effect of age on noninsulin-mediated glucose disposal (NIMGU), which is responsible for the majority of basal glucose uptake, has not been completely evaluated. These studies were conducted on healthy nonobese young (n = 10; age, 20-30 yr) and old (n = 10; age, 62-80 yr) men. Each subject underwent two paired studies in random order. In all studies a [3H]glucose infusion was used to measure glucose uptake and production rates, and somatostatin (500 micrograms/h) was infused to suppress endogenous insulin release. In study A, plasma glucose was kept close to fasting levels (approximately 5.6 mmol/L) using an euglycemic clamp protocol for 4 h. Plasma insulin decreased to less than 20 pmol/L within 15 min and remained suppressed thereafter in all studies. Steady state (15-240 min) plasma glucagon levels were slightly greater in the elderly [young, 86 +/- 5 (+/- SE); old, 98 +/- 2 ng/L; P less than .05]. Basal glucose uptake was similar in both groups (young, 877 +/- 21; old, 901 +/- 24 mumol/min). Glucose uptake during the last hour of the study (180-240 min) was used to represent NIMGU, because insulin action was assumed to be absent by this time. NIMGU was less in the elderly (young, 744 +/- 18; old, 632 +/- 32 mumol/min; P less than 0.01). In study B, plasma glucose was kept at about 11 mmol/L for 4 h using a hyperglycemic clamp protocol. Plasma insulin decreased to less than 20 pmol/L within 15 min and remained suppressed thereafter in all studies. Steady state plasma glucagon levels were slightly but not significantly higher in the elderly (young, 88 +/- 6; old, 100 +/- 4 ng/L). Basal glucose uptake (young, 910 +/- 27; old, 883 +/- 25 mumol/min) and NIMGU (young, 933 +/- 36; old, 890 +/- 16 mumol/min; P = NS) were similar in both young and old subjects. We conclude that aging is associated with impairment in NIMGU only in the basal state, which may explain in part the increase in fasting glucose with age.