Isolated suspensions of colonocytes from the rat were used to assess utilization, interaction, and fate of metabolic substrates normally obtained from colonic bacteria (acetate, propionate, butyrate) or derived from the blood circulation to the colonic mucosa (D-glucose, acetoacetate, L-glutamine). The short-chain fatty acid n-butyrate (10 mM), on its own, accounted for 86% of the total oxygen consumption and suppressed oxidation of endogenous fuel by 82%. Ths value was not altered by the addition of acetoacetate (5 mM), of L-glutamine (5 mM), or of D-glucose (10 mM). Activation of short-chain fatty acids by colonocytes proceeded in the order of butyrate greater than acetate greater than propionate. D-Glucose on its own accounted for 30% of the oxygen consumption by colonocytes and hardly suppressed utilization of endogenous fuels. Colonocytes utilized ketone bodies (acetoacetate) and produced them (acetoacetate and beta-hydroxybutyrate) from short-chain fatty acids. Considering the interaction of substrates, isolated colonic epithelial cells utilized respiratory fuels in the preferential order of butyrate greater than acetoacetate greater than glutamine greater than glucose. The high rate of CO2 production from butyrate should be a worthwhile means of examining the functional activity of the colonic mucosa clinically and in vivo.