AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) is an important signaling effector that couples cellular metabolism and function. The effects of AMPK activation on pancreatic beta-cell function remain unresolved. We used 5-amino-imidazole carboxamide riboside (AICAR), an activator of AMPK, to define the signaling mechanisms linking the activation of AMPK with insulin secretion. Application of 300 microM AICAR to mouse islets incubated in 5-14 mM glucose significantly increased AMPK activity and potentiated insulin secretion. AICAR inhibited ATP-sensitive K(+) (K(ATP)) channels and increased the frequency of glucose-induced calcium oscillations in islets incubated in 8-14 mM glucose. At lower glucose concentration (5mM) AICAR did not affect K(ATP) activity or intracellular ([Ca(2+)](i)). AICAR also did not inhibit (86)Rb(+) efflux from islets isolated from Sur1(-/-) mice that lack K(ATP) channels yet significantly potentiated glucose stimulated insulin secretion. Our data suggest that AICAR stimulates insulin secretion by both K(ATP) channel-dependent and -independent pathways.