Infusion of epinephrine in humans increases glucose production and decreases plasma concentrations of some essential amino acids such as leucine, while not affecting the plasma concentration of the potential gluconeogenic amino acid alanine. To determine whether epinephrine alters alanine and leucine metabolism, rates of appearance (Ra) and disappearance (Rd) of glucose, alanine, and leucine were determined in postabsorptive volunteers using [3H]glucose, [2H3]alanine, [15N]leucine, and [2H3]leucine during a 180-min infusion of epinephrine (50 ng X kg-1 X min-1). Plasma glucose (90 +/- 1 to 142 +/- 5 mg/dl) and insulin (10 +/- 1 to 16 +/- 2 micrograms/ml) increased (P less than 0.05), whereas plasma alanine concentrations did not change and plasma leucine concentrations increased (127 +/- 5 to 72 +/- 3 microM). Glucose Ra increased transiently and returned to basal values by 120 min. In contrast, alanine Ra and Rd increased identically and progressively from 5.7 +/- 0.5 to 14.5 +/- 1.9 mumol X kg-1 X min-1 by 180 min. Although leucine nitrogen Ra increased transiently and returned to basal values, leucine carbon Ra and Rd decreased (P less than 0.05) during the infusion of epinephrine. The calculated rate and percent of leucine nitrogen going to alanine increased, whereas the percent of alanine nitrogen derived from leucine remained constant. The increase in alanine Ra was entirely attributable to increased de novo synthesis because proteolysis, as estimated by leucine carbon flux, decreased.