Changes in VLDL triglyceride and VLDL apo B production were determined semiquantitatively in healthy young men by examining the effect of altering plasma insulin and/or FFA levels on the change in the slopes of the specific activity of VLDL [3H]triglyceride glycerol or the 131I-VLDL apo B versus time curves. In one study (n = 8) insulin was infused for 5 h using the euglycemic hyperinsulinemic clamp technique. Plasma FFA levels declined by approximately 80% (0.52 +/- 0.01 to 0.11 +/- 0.02 mmol/liter), VLDL triglyceride production decreased by 66.7 +/- 4.2% (P = 0.0001) and VLDL apo B production decreased by 51.7 +/- 10.6% (P = 0.003). In a second study (n = 8) heparin and Intralipid (Baxter Corp., Toronto, Canada) were infused with insulin to prevent the insulin-mediated fall in plasma FFA levels. Plasma FFA increased approximately twofold (0.43 +/- 0.05 to 0.82 + 0.13 mmol/liter), VLDL triglyceride production decreased to a lesser extent than with insulin alone (P = 0.006) (-31.8 +/- 9.5%, decrease from baseline P = 0.03) and VLDL apo B production did not decrease significantly (-6.3 +/- 13.6%, P = NS). In a third study (n = 8) when heparin and Intralipid were infused without insulin, FFA levels rose approximately twofold (0.53 +/- 0.04 to 0.85 +/- 0.1 mmol/liter), VLDL triglyceride production increased by 180.1 +/- 45.7% (P = 0.008) and VLDL apo B production increased by 94.2 +/- 28.7% (P = 0.05). We confirm our previous observation that acute hyperinsulinemia suppresses VLDL triglyceride and VLDL apo B production in healthy humans. In addition, we have demonstrated that elevation of plasma FFA levels acutely stimulates VLDL production in vivo in healthy young males. Elevating plasma FFA during hyperinsulinemia attenuates but does not completely abolish the suppressive effect of insulin on VLDL production, at least with respect to VLDL triglycerides. Therefore, in normal individuals the acute inhibition of VLDL production by insulin in vivo is only partly due to the suppression of plasma FFA, and may also be due to an FFA-independent process.