Glucose clearance (glucose utilization divided by plasma glucose) is commonly used to assess glucose utilization under conditions in which plasma glucose concentrations vary. The validity of this practice requires that glucose clearance itself be independent of plasma glucose concentration. The present studies were, therefore, undertaken to determine the relationship between glucose clearance and plasma glucose concentration in man. Using the glucose clamp technique, rates of glucose utilization (measured isotopically with 3-3H-glucose) and glucose clearance were determined in 5 normal volunteers at steady-state plasma glucose concentrations of approximately 60, 95, 130, and 165 mg/dl, while plasma insulin concentrations were maintained constant (approximately 18 microU/ml) by infusion of insulin and somatostatin. Despite virtually identical 0.4 mg X kg-1 X min-1 increments in glucose utilization for each 35-mg/dl increment in plasma glucose, glucose clearance decreased as a function of plasma glucose concentration (r = -0.85, P less than 0.001). These results indicate that glucose clearance is not independent of changes in plasma glucose concentration and, thus, use of glucose clearance to evaluate glucose utilization of differing plasma glucose concentration is not valid. Whether this conclusion also applies to similar use of clearance for other substrates remains to be determined.