To test the hypothesis that the high circulating FFA levels in the diabetes of obesity could contribute to the altered dynamics of insulin secretion seen in that condition, insulin release was measured in isolated perifused rat islet cells, without or with added palmitate. Acutely, as in other systems, palmitate (1 mM) stimulated insulin release. Palmitate (1 mM) suppressed both first and second phase insulin release after 2, 3, or 4 h of perifusion, but not after 1 h. No significant effect was noted with 0.3 mM palmitate, and the effect was maximal at 1 mM. The stimulatory effects of arginine were essentially unaffected. Tolbutamide (1 mM) reversed or counteracted the effect. Glucose oxidation was suppressed in islets incubated with 1 mM palmitate for 4 h. Inhibitors of fat oxidation, alpha-bromostearate (1 mM) and methyl-3-tetradecylglycidate (100 microM) reversed the effects of palmitate on glucose-stimulated insulin release and glucose oxidation. Thus, prolonged incubation of rat islet cells with 1 mM palmitate could suppress the glucose-stimulated release of insulin from perifused rat islets. This suppression could be reversed by inhibitors of fat oxidation. This supports the hypothesis that elevated FFA levels and/or increased fat oxidation could contribute to the altered dynamics of insulin secretion in obese diabetics by fuel antagonism as well as the previously documented suppression of peripheral glucose uptake and stimulation of hepatic gluconeogenesis and may be a key link between obesity and the development of diabetes.