The role of physiological hypercortisolemia in the regulation of fuel metabolism in man was examined during a 5-h primed-continuous infusion of cortisol which raised plasma cortisol levels to 40 microgram/dl. Plasma glucose increased by 15--20 mg/dl (P less than 0.005) in spite of unchanged rates of glucose production. Glucose uptake and clearance, on the other hand, fell by 15% (P less than 0.05) and 30% (P less than 0.005), respectively, thereby accounting for cortisol-induced hyperglycemia. Total blood ketones during cortisol infusion increased 3-fold above saline control values (P less than 0.01) despite comparable FFA levels in the two groups. In addition, there was a selective 40% rise in total branched chain amino acids (P less than 0.005) during cortisol infusion. These effects of cortisol on glucose, ketone, and amino acid metabolism occurred in the absence of significant changes in the plasma insulin or glucagon concentration. Furthermore, cortisol infusion had no effect on [125I]insulin binding to circulating monocytes. Our data thus suggest that acute elevations of plasma cortisol have antiinsulin effects in man which may occur independent of alterations in insulin receptors.