Estimation of the insulin secretory rate from peripheral C-peptide concentrations depends upon the following characteristics of C-peptide kinetics: (a) equimolar secretion of insulin and C-peptide by pancreatic beta cells; (b) negligible hepatic extraction of C-peptide; (c) constant metabolic clearance rate (MCR) of C-peptide over a physiological and pathophysiological range of plasma levels; and (d) proportional changes in the secretion rate of C-peptide and its peripheral concentrations under varying physiological conditions. In the present experiments, the relationship between a variable intraportal infusion of C-peptide and its concentration in the femoral artery was explored in 12 pancreatectomized dogs. As the infusion of C-peptide was rapidly increased, the magnitude of its peripheral concentration initially increased less than the infusion rate by 20-30%. After an equilibration period of approximately 30 min, however, further increases and decreases in the intraportal infusion were accompanied by nearly proportional changes in its peripheral concentration. Estimates of the amount of C-peptide infused during the experiment based on the steady state C-peptide MCR and its peripheral concentration were within 20% of the amount of C-peptide actually infused. These experiments demonstrate that the portal delivery rate of C-peptide can be calculated from its MCR and peripheral concentration in the dog. They also provide a basis for testing the validity of more complicated models of insulin secretion based on peripheral C-peptide concentrations in the dog as well as other species, including man. Finally, we have shown that the hepatic extraction of endogenously secreted C-peptide is negligible in the basal state (3.1 +/- 6.1%), and does not change after oral glucose ingestion. The MCR of exogenous dog C-peptide was similar whether measured by constant peripheral intravenous infusion (12.3 +/- 0.7 ml/kg per min), constant intraportal infusion (13.4 +/- 0.6 ml/kg per min), or analysis of the decay curve after a bolus injection (13.5 +/- 0.7 ml/kg per min).