Long-term exposure to fatty acids (FA) inhibits B-cell function. We tested whether the inhibitory effects are associated with increased islet triglycerides (TG). Rat pancreatic islets were cultured for 48 hours in RPMI 1640 medium with 10% fetal calf serum (FCS) and 11 mmol/L glucose in the presence or absence of the long-chain FA, palmitate. Palmitate (0.125 mmol/L) exposure successively increased islet TG 70% after 6 hours and 200% after 48 hours of culture. The dose-response for palmitate was similar for the increase in TG and inhibition of glucose-induced insulin secretion. Reversal of elevated islet TG in RPMI medium (after 48 hours of palmitate) was 29% after 6 hours and 84% after 24 hours. A more rapid decline of TG was observed in Krebs-Ringer bicarbonate (KRB) medium in the absence of nutrients. This decline was totally prevented by 1 mumol/L of the carnitine palmitoyl transferase-I (CPT-I) inhibitor, etomoxir. Etomoxir enhanced glucose-induced insulin secretion from palmitate-cultured islets; however, this effect was lost when TG were normalized. Under conditions when oxidation of FA from islet TG stores was blocked with etomoxir, we tested the effects of octanoate, the oxidation of which is not blocked by etomoxir. Oxidation of [1-14C]octanoate from islets precultured with palmitate (48 hours) did not differ from that in control islets. Conversely, after palmitate, octanoate inhibited glucose oxidation (14CO2 production from [U-14C]glucose, 613 +/- 41 pmol/10 islets/90 min v 1,129 +/- 87 after control conditions, P < .01). In conclusion, (1) palmitate induces increases in islet TG that are associated with inhibition of B-cell function, and (2) long-term exposure to palmitate also induces an inhibitory effect of FA oxidation on glucose metabolism that is independent of TG.