Plasma glucose, insulin, and FFA concentrations were determined in 15 normal subjects and 15 patients with noninsulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) from 0800 to 1600 h. Breakfast and lunch were consumed at 0800 and 1200 h, respectively, and plasma concentrations were measured at hourly intervals from 0800-1600 h. Plasma glucose concentrations between 0800 and 1600 h were significantly elevated in patients with NIDDM, and the higher the fasting glucose level, the greater the postprandial hyperglycemia. Hyperglycemia in patients with NIDDM was associated with plasma insulin levels that were significantly higher (P less than 0.001) than those in normal subjects, and substantial hyperinsulinemia occurred between 0800 and 1600 h in patients with mild NIDDM (fasting plasma glucose concentrations, less than 140 mg/dl). Both fasting and postprandial FFA levels were also increased in patients with NIDDM (P less than 0.001), and the greater the plasma glucose response, the higher the FFA response (r = 0.70; P less than 0.001). However, there was no significant correlation between plasma insulin and FFA concentrations. More specifically, hyperinsulinemic patients with mild diabetes (fasting plasma glucose, less than 140 mg/dl) maintained normal ambient FFA levels, while FFA concentrations were significantly elevated in patients with severe NIDDM (fasting plasma glucose, greater than 250 mg/dl), with insulin concentrations comparable to those in normal subjects. These results demonstrate that patients with NIDDM are not capable of maintaining normal plasma FFA concentrations. This defect in FFA metabolism is proportionate to the magnitude of hyperglycemia and occurs despite the presence of elevated levels of plasma insulin. These results are consistent with the view that insulin resistance in NIDDM also involves the ability of insulin to regulate FFA metabolism.