We tested the validity of the use of [2-13C]glycerol and of the mass isotopomer distribution analysis of glucose for measuring gluconeogenesis in vitro and in vivo. When isolated rat livers (starved for 48 h) were infused with labeled glycerol without or with lactate+pyruvate, gluconeogenesis accounted for > 90% of glucose production. When glucose was added to the infusate so that glucose produced by the liver represented only 80 or 45% of total glucose output, this dilution could be calculated from the mass isotopomer distribution of glucose. When postabsorptive and starved rats were infused with [2-13C]glycerol, gluconeogenesis accounted for 54 +/- 2 and 89 +/- 1%, respectively, of glucose production. However, accurate measures could be obtained, particularly in postabsorptive rats, only with high tracer infusion rates (representing > or = 50% of endogenous glycerol production rate). In both groups of rats, these infusion rates resulted in an increase in total glycerol turnover rate and gluconeogenesis from glycerol. In addition, hepatic concentration of glycerol 3-phosphate was increased. In conclusion, [2-13C]glycerol infusion and mass isotopomer distribution analysis of glucose appear to be useful methods for studies of gluconeogenesis in vitro and in vivo; however, accurate measurements in vivo can be obtained only at the expense of some perturbation of the metabolic pathway studied.