To estimate pancreatic neural activity and to assess the potential role of the pancreatic nerves in the regulation of hormone secretion, the methodology necessary to quantify neurotransmitter spillover and hormone output in the conscious dog was developed. A femoral artery and the superior pancreaticoduodenal vein (SPDV) were chronically cannulated, and a flow probe was placed on the SPDV. Hormone output was calculated using the pancreatic arteriovenous concentration difference and the SPDV plasma flow. Basal glucose levels were 103 +/- 1 mg/dl; the pancreatic outputs of insulin, glucagon, and pancreatic polypeptide (PP, an index of parasympathetic neural activity) were 2,900 +/- 700 microU/min, 1,900 +/- 400 pg/min, and 9.3 +/- 4.6 ng/min, respectively. Pancreatic norepinephrine (NE) spillover was calculated similarly; however, pancreatic extraction of epinephrine was used as an index of NE extraction. Basal NE spillover was 3,600 +/- 700 pg/min, greatly exceeding that reported using anesthetized, laparotomized dogs. Intravenous glucose infusion increased plasma glucose to 146 +/- 13 mg/dl, increased insulin output approximately twofold, and suppressed glucagon output by approximately 50%. Hyperglycemia markedly reduced PP output. Hyperglycemia failed to influence pancreatic NE spillover. Insulin-induced hypoglycemia (36 +/- 2 mg/dl) completely suppressed insulin output and stimulated glucagon output (> 10-fold). Hypoglycemia increased NE spillover and PP output to 19,900 +/- 4,600 pg/min and 117 +/- 22 ng/min, respectively. We conclude that pancreatic neurotransmitter spillover in the basal state is much higher than previously appreciated and that neural signaling to the pancreas is responsive to physiological and pathophysiological changes in the metabolic state.