Glucagon causes transient hyperglycemia and persistent hypoaminoacidemia, but the mechanisms of this action are unclear. To address this question, the present study measured the effects of glucagon on glucose, leucine, phenylalanine, and glutamine kinetics. Seven healthy subjects each underwent three pancreatic clamp studies (octreotide 30 ng/kg/min, insulin 0.15 mU/kg/min, and glucagon 1.4 ng/kg/min) lasting 7 hours. During the last 3.5 hours of the studies, glucagon infusion was either unchanged (study 0) or increased to 4 and 7 ng/kg/min (studies 1 and 2). The higher glucagon infusion rates increased the glucagon concentration by 50% and 100%, respectively. [6,6-(2)H2]glucose, [2-(15)N]glutamine, 2H5-phenylalanine, and 2H3-leucine were infused to quantify the respective fluxes. Glucagon transiently increased glucose concentrations by stimulating glucose production, which peaked in 15 minutes to 3.82 +/- 0.36 and 4.21 +/- 0.33 mg/kg/min in studies 1 and 2 and then returned to the postabsorptive levels. Glucagon decreased the glutamine concentration (-10% +/- 2% and -22% +/- 2% in studies 1 and 2 v study 0, P < .05), because glutamine uptake became greater than glutamine release (balance from -1.9 +/- 0.9 in study 0 to -8.1 +/- 1.1 and -13.6 +/- 1.0 micromol/kg/h in studies 1 and 2, P < .01). Glucagon decreased the leucine concentration (-11% +/- 3% in study 2 v study 0, P < .02) and caused a small increment in proteolysis (+6% in study 2 v study 0, P < .01) that was related to the decrement in glutamine concentrations. Phenylalanine kinetics were not significantly affected. These results show that glucagon promotes the uptake of gluconeogenic substrates but does not increase their release, suggesting that glucagon-induced hyperglycemia is short-lived because glucagon fails to provide more fuel for gluconeogenesis. The small increase in proteolysis and the depletion of circulating glutamine prove that physiologic hyperglucagonemia can contribute to protein catabolism.