Although the importance of the hepatic glucose load in the regulation of liver glucose uptake has been clearly demonstrated in in vitro systems, the relationship between the hepatic glucose load and hepatic glucose uptake has yet to be defined in vivo. Likewise, the effects of the route of glucose delivery (peripheral or portal) on this relationship have not been explored. The aims of the present study were to determine the relationship between net hepatic glucose uptake (NHGU) and the hepatic glucose load in vivo and to examine the effects of the route of glucose delivery on this relationship. NHGU was evaluated at three different hepatic glucose loads in 42-h fasted, conscious dogs in both the absence (n = 7) and the presence (n = 6) of intraportal glucose delivery. In the absence of intraportal glucose delivery and in the presence of hepatic glucose loads of 50.5 +/- 5.9, 76.5 +/- 10.0, and 93.6 +/- 10.0 mg/kg/min and arterial insulin levels of approximately 33 microU/ml, NHGU was 1.16 +/- 0.37, 2.78 +/- 0.82, and 5.07 +/- 1.20 mg/kg/min, respectively. When a portion of the glucose load was infused into the portal vein and similar arterial insulin levels (approximately 36 microU/ml) and hepatic glucose loads (52.5 +/- 4.5, 70.4 +/- 5.6, and 103.6 +/- 18.4 mg/kg/min) were maintained, NHGU was twice that seen in the absence of portal loading (3.77 +/- 0.40, 4.80 +/- 0.59, and 9.62 +/- 1.43 mg/kg/min, respectively). Thus, net hepatic glucose uptake demonstrated a direct dependence on the hepatic glucose load that did not reach saturation even at elevations in the hepatic glucose load of greater than three times basal. In addition, the presence of intraportal glucose delivery increased net hepatic glucose uptake apparently by lowering the threshold at which the liver switched from net glucose output to net glucose uptake.