Plasma and erythrocyte magnesium levels were measured by atomic absorption spectrophotometry in 10 healthy volunteers during an oral glucose tolerance test and during an euglycaemic hyperinsulinaemic glucose clamp. At min 180 and 210 of the oral glucose tolerance test, a significant decline in plasma magnesium levels (p less than 0.01 and p less than 0.05 respectively) and a significant increase in erythrocyte magnesium levels (p less than 0.01 and p less than 0.05 respectively) were observed. Similar changes were seen during the second hour of the glucose clamp, during which euglycaemia (4.1 +/- 0.4 mmol/l) was maintained despite hyperinsulinaemia (110-130 mU/l). During in vitro incubations, glucose (5 mmol/l) did not modify erythrocyte magnesium levels. In contrast, erythrocyte magnesium levels were significantly increased (p less than 0.01) by insulin (100 mU/l), an effect entirely abolished by ouabain (5 X 10(-4) mol/l). These results suggest that insulin induces a shift of magnesium from the plasma to the erythrocytes both in vivo and in vitro. These data may help to interprete the abnormalities in magnesium circulating levels frequently reported in diabetic patients.