We investigated the effect of intravenous infusions of aminophylline on plasma glucose, insulin (IRI), glucagon (IRG), growth hormone (HGH), cortisol, and free fatty acid (FFA) levels in healthy young subjects. Six received an intravenous loading dose of aminophylline (6.0 mg/kg over 20 min) followed by a maintenance dose (0.9 mg/kg/hr) for 100 min. Another 7 subjects initially received smaller loading (3.0 mg/kg) and maintenance (0.45 mg/kg/hr) doses, and after 60 min they received a second loading dose (3.0 mg/kg) followed by a larger maintenance dose (0.9 mg/kg/hr) over 120 min. In these fasting volunteers, infusion of aminophylline, which produced theophylline levels in the usual therapeutic range (10 to 20 microgram/ml) caused small increases in plasma glucose levels without changing IRI, IRG, HGH, or cortisol. There were rapid, pronounced, and prolonged rises in FFA associated with the aminophylline infusion. Increases in FFA paralleled the rise in theophylline levels. It is concluded that routine therapeutic doses of theophylline, i.e., doses that achieve serum levels normally encountered in treatment for bronchial asthma, cause a marked rise in FFA and a slight rise in glucose (8 +/- 3 mg/dl) without changing levels of IRI, IRG, HGH, or cortisol.