The relationship of fuel-stimulated insulin secretion and the beta-cell bioenergetic state was investigated in isolated rat islets. In islets perifused with 5 mmol/L glucose to maintain a high basal energy state, stimulation by 9 to 28 mmol/L glucose increased the [ATP]/[ADP] and [GTP]/[GDP]. The rise in the former occurred prior to, or coincident with, the onset of insulin secretion and was dependent on glucose concentration. The increase in the latter appeared to lag behind the alteration in the [ATP]/[ADP] and achieved statistical significance after 30 minutes of incubation. Addition of 20 mmol/L alpha-ketoisocaproic acid, a powerful secretagogue, also caused a rise in the [ATP]/[ADP]. By contrast, 20 mmol/L lactate, which affected insulin secretion only minimally, failed to alter nucleotide concentrations. These data support the hypothesis that an increase in the islet energy state is a metabolic signal linking fuel metabolism with initiation of insulin secretion.