The roles of insulin deficiency and insulin resistance in the pathogenesis of glucose intolerance in cystic fibrosis (CF) were evaluated in eight patients (aged 16.5 +/- 1.9 yr), four with normal glucose tolerance (NGT) and four with impaired glucose tolerance (IGT), and in seven healthy control (CN) subjects. First and second phase insulin secretions were evaluated during a hyperglycemic clamp. Hepatic glucose production (HGP) and insulin-stimulated glucose disposal were measured using [6,6-2H2]glucose and a stepwise hyperinsulinemic-euglycemic clamp. First and second phase insulin levels were significantly lower in both groups of CF patients compared with control values. There was an inverse relationship between glycohemoglobin level and first phase insulin (r = -0.81; P = 0.015) and second phase insulin (r = -0.97; P < 0.001). During the hyperglycemic clamp, the insulin sensitivity index was lower in CF-IGT, but not CF-NGT, compared with control values (6.66 +/- 1.79, 12.82 +/- 1.61, and 13.02 +/- 1.78 mumol/kg.min/pmol.L, respectively; P < 0.05). Basal HGP and fasting plasma glucose were higher in CF vs. CN [24.8 +/- 2.9 vs. 16.9 +/- 1.4 mumol/kg.min (P = 0.036) and 5.8 +/- 0.2 vs. 5.4 +/- 0.1 mmol/L (P = 0.035), respectively]. During the hyperinsulinemic euglycemic clamp, insulin-stimulated glucose disposal was significantly lower in CF-IGT (45.68 +/- 4.87 mumol/kg.min) vs. CF-NGT (78.99 +/- 1.34 mumol/kg.min) and CN (71.74 +/- 6.88 mumol/kg.min). Insulin sensitivity was lower in CF-IGT vs. CF-NGT (7.04 +/- 0.86 and 14.38 +/- 0.84 mumol/kg.min/pmol.L; P < 0.05). We conclude that 1) glycohemoglobin is a strong correlate of insulin deficiency in CF; and 2) glucose intolerance in this group of CF patients occurred as a consequence of concomitant insulin deficiency and insulin resistance.