Beta-L-glucose pentaacetate, but not alpha-D-galactose pentaacetate, was recently reported to taste bitter and to stimulate insulin release. This finding led, in the present study, to the investigation of the effects of both bitter and non-bitter artificial sweeteners on insulin release and cationic fluxes in isolated rat pancreatic islets. Sodium saccharin (1.0-10.0 mM), sodium cyclamate (5.0-10.0 mM), stevioside (1.0 mM) and acesulfame-K (1.0-15.0 mM), all of which display a bitter taste, augmented insulin release from islets incubated in the presence of 7.0 mM D-glucose. In contrast, aspartame (1.0-10.0 mM), which is devoid of bitter taste, failed to affect insulin secretion. A positive secretory response to acesulfame-K was still observed when the extracellular K+ concentration was adjusted to the same value as that in control media. No major changes in 86Rb and 45Ca outflow from pre-labelled perifused islets could be attributed to the saccharin, cyclamic or acesulfame anions. It is proposed that the insulinotropic action of some artificial sweeteners and, possibly, that of selected hexose pentaacetate esters may require G-protein-coupled receptors similar to those operative in the recognition of bitter compounds by taste buds.