The present investigation was undertaken to ascertain whether alterations in plasma free fatty acids (FFA) affect pancreatic glucagon secretion in man since FFA have been reported to influence pancreatic alpha cell function in other species. Elevation of plasma FFA from a mean (±SE) basal level of 0.478±0.036 mM to 0.712±0.055 mM after heparin administration caused plasma glucagon levels to fall approximately 50%, from a basal value of 122±15 pg/ml to 59±14 pg/ml (P<0.001). Lowering of plasma FFA from a basal level of 0.520±0.046 mM to 0.252±0.041 mM after nicotinic acid administration raised plasma glucagon from a basal level of 113±18 pg/ml to 168±12 pg/ml (P<0.005). Infusion of glucose elevated plasma glucose levels to the same degree that heparin raised plasma FFA levels. This resulted in suppression of plasma glucagon despite the fact that plasma FFA levels also were suppressed. Glucagon responses to arginine were diminished after elevation of plasma FFA (P<0.01) and during infusion of glucose (P<0.01). Diminution of plasma FFA by nicotinic acid did not augment glucagon responses to arginine. These results thus demonstrate that rather small alterations in plasma FFA within the physiologic range have a significant effect on glucagon secretion in man. Although the effects of glucose appear to predominate over those of FFA, alterations in plasma FFA may nevertheless exert an important physiologic influence over human pancreatic alpha cell function, especially in the postabsorptive state.
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