To study the effect of insulin on leucine kinetics, three groups of conscious dogs were studied after an overnight fast (16-18 h). One, saline-infused group (n = 5), served as control. The other two groups were infused with somatostatin and constant replacement amount of glucagon; one group (n = 6) received no insulin replacement, to produce acute insulin deficiency, and the other (n = 6) was constantly replaced with 600 muU/kg per min insulin, to produce twice basal hyperinsulinemia. Hepatic and extrahepatic splanchnic (gut) balance of leucine and alpha-ketoisocaproate (KIC) were calculated using the arteriovenous difference technique. l,4,5,[(3)H]Leucine was used to measure the rates (micromoles per kilogram per minute) of appearance (Ra) and disappearance (Rd), and clearance (Cl) of plasma leucine (milliliters per kilogram per minute). Saline infusion for 7 h resulted in isotopic steady state, where Ra and Rd were equal (3.2+/-0.2 mumol/kg per min). Acute insulin withdrawal of 4-h duration caused the plasma leucine to increase by 40% (P < 0.005). This change was caused by a decrease in the outflow of leucine (Cl) from the plasma, since Ra did not change. The net hepatic release of the amino acid (0.24+/-0.03 mumol/kg per min) did not change significantly; the arterio-deep femoral venous differences of leucine (-10+/-1 mumol/liter) and KIC (-12+/-2 mumol/liter) did not change significantly indicating net release of the amino and ketoacids across the hindlimb. Selective twice basal hyperinsulinemia resulted in a 36% drop in plasma leucine (from control levels of 128+/-8 to 82+/-7 mumol/liter, P < 0.005) within 4 h. This was accompanied by a 15% reduction in Ra and a 56% rise in clearance (P < 0.001, both). Net hepatic leucine production and net release of leucine and KIC across the hindlimb fell markedly. These studies indicate that physiologic changes in circulating insulin levels result in a differential dose-dependent effect on total body leucine metabolism in the intact animal. Acute insulin withdrawal exerts no effect on leucine rate of appearance, while at twice basal levels, insulin inhibited leucine rate of appearance and stimulated its rate of disappearance.