In man, a decrease in plasma glucose concentration results in a compensatory increase in hepatic glucose release. Studies in vitro have suggested that a low glucose concentration per se may directly stimulate hepatic glucose release, an effect often referred to as autoregulation. Whether autoregulation occurs in man in response to a physiologic decrement in blood glucose is not known. Therefore, seven healthy, nonobese subjects were studied on two occasions to determine the role of autoregulation in mediating the increase in glucose production that accompanies a physiologic decrement in plasma glucose concentration. On both occasions, plasma glucose concentrations were clamped successively at 95, 65, and 95 mg/dl for 2 h each. Insulin (approximately 14 microU/ml) and glucagon (approximately 70 pg/ml) were maintained constant on both occasions by an infusion of somatostatin and insulin. Phentolamine and propranolol also were infused on one occasion to produce combined alpha- and beta-adrenergic blockade. In the absence of adrenergic blockade, glucose production increased by approximately 1.3 mg/kg X min when the plasma glucose concentration was decreased from 95 to 65 mg/dl and decreased by approximately 1.5 mg/kg X min when glucose was increased from 65 to 95 mg/dl. In the presence of adrenergic blockade, the increase and decrease in glucose production averaged 0 and 0.5 mg/kg X min, respectively, representing 70-100% inhibition. We conclude that, in the presence of low physiologic insulin concentrations, autoregulation is not a major contributor to the hepatic response to a physiologic decrement in plasma glucose concentration in man.