Glucagon-like peptide-1 7-36 amide (GLP-1) has been postulated to be the primary hormonal mediator of the entero-insular axis but evidence has been indirect. The discovery of exendin (9-39), a GLP-1 receptor antagonist, allowed this to be further investigated. The IC50 for GLP-1 receptor binding, using RIN 5AH beta-cell membranes, was found to be 0.36 nmol/l for GLP-1 and 3.44 nmol/l for exendin (9-39). There was no competition by exendin (9-39) at binding sites for glucagon or related peptides. In the anaesthetized fasted rat, insulin release after four doses of GLP-1 (0.1, 0.2, 0.3, and 0.4 nmol/kg) was tested by a 2-min intravenous infusion. Exendin (9-39) (1.5, 3.0, and 4.5 nmol/kg) was administered with GLP-1 0.3 nmol/kg, or saline, and only the highest dose fully inhibited insulin release. Exendin (9-39) at 4.5 nmol/kg had no effect on glucose, arginine, vasoactive intestinal peptide or glucose-dependent insulinotropic peptide stimulated insulin secretion. Postprandial insulin release was studied in conditioned conscious rats after a standard meal. Exendin (9-39) (0.5 nmol/kg) considerably reduced postprandial insulin concentrations, for example by 48% at 15 min (431 +/- 21 pmol/l saline, 224 +/- 32 pmol/l exendin, P < 0.001). Thus, GLP-1 appears to play a major role in the entero-insular axis.