Severe hypoglycaemia with brain dysfunction limits intensified therapy in patients with insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, despite evidence that such therapy reduces the risk of chronic complications of the disease. We have investigated the effect of infusing lactate (a potential non-glucose fuel for brain metabolism) on protective, symptomatic neurohumoral responses and on brain function during hypoglycaemia in seven healthy men. Elevation of lactate (within a physiological range) substantially diminished catecholamines, growth hormone, cortisol, and symptomatic responses to hypoglycaemia and lowered the glucose level at which these responses began. Glucagon responses were unaffected. Lactate was also associated with a significant lowering of the glucose level at which brain function deteriorated, suggesting that brain function was protected during the hypoglycaemia. The defect in counter-regulation is similar to that seen in hypoglycaemia-prone diabetic patients. Initiation of the protective responses to hypoglycaemia (except glucagon) can be delayed by supporting metabolism with an alternative metabolic fuel. Cerebral cortical dysfunction of severe hypoglycaemia is also delayed. Our demonstration that higher brain function can be protected during hypoglycaemia may have therapeutic potential.