The effect of glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) on hepatic glucose production and peripheral glucose utilization was investigated with or without infusion of somatostatin to inhibit insulin and glucagon secretion in 13 healthy, non-diabetic women aged 59 years. After 120 min 3-(3)H-glucose infusion, GLP-1 was added (4.5 pmol kg(-1) bolus + 1.5 pmol kg(-1) min(-1)). Without somatostatin (n = 6), GLP-1 decreased plasma glucose (from 4.8 +/- 0.2 to 4.2 +/- 0.3 mmol L(-1), P = 0.007). Insulin levels were increased (48 +/- 3 vs. 243 +/- 67 pmol L(-1), P = 0.032), as was the insulin to glucagon ratio (P = 0.044). The rate of glucose appearance (Ra) was decreased (P = 0.003) and the metabolic clearance rate of glucose (MCR) was increased during the GLP-1 infusion (P = 0.024 vs. saline). Also, the rate of glucose disappearance (Rd) was reduced during the GLP-1 infusion (P = 0.004). Since Ra was reduced more than Rd, the net glucose flow was negative, which reduced plasma glucose. Somatostatin infusion (500 microg h(-1), n = 7) abolished the effects of GLP-1 on plasma glucose, serum insulin, insulin to glucagon ratio, Ra, Rd, MCR and net glucose flow. The results suggest that GLP-1 reduces plasma glucose levels mainly by reducing hepatic glucose production and increasing the metabolic clearance rate of glucose through indirectly increasing the insulin to glucagon ratio in healthy subjects.