To compare the metabolic effects of pulsatile vs. continuous iv insulin infusion, normal men had two glucose-controlled iv glucose infusions using the Biostator for 260 min, during which endogenous pancreatic hormone secretion was inhibited by a somatostatin infusion and glucagon was replaced by continuous glucagon infusion. The two tests were performed at 1-week intervals, during which human insulin was infused either continuously at a constant rate of 0.2 mU kg-1 min-1 or in a pulsatile manner at a rate of 1.3 mU kg-1 min-1 with a switching on/off length of 2/11 min. Blood glucose levels and glucose infusion rates (GIR) were continuously monitored, and glucose turnover was estimated using a [3H]glucose infusion. In both tests, plasma C-peptide dropped markedly, whereas plasma glucagon levels were about twice basal values. Plasma insulin averaged 7 mU liter-1 during continuous infusion and oscillated between 1.5 and 35 mU liter-1 during pulsatile delivery. During the first 30-60 min of both tests, the glucose appearance rate and endogenous glucose production (EGP) increased, resulting in moderate hyperglycemia, which completely suppressed GIR. During the last 65 min, EGP declined, while the glucose disappearance rate and the glucose MCR increased, so that GIR increased progressively to maintain the blood glucose clamped at about 5 mmol liter-1. During this period, no significant differences were found between the two modes of insulin administration for any of the parameters studied. Thus, continuous and pulsatile insulin iv infusion, resulting in physiological peripheral plasma insulin levels, altered the glucose turnover parameters equally, in particular inhibiting EGP, which was stimulated by glucagon during the first part of the study, and stimulating peripheral glucose uptake at the end of the study period.