The aim of the present experiments was to determine the role of insulin and glucagon in the regulation of basal glucose production in dogs fasted overnight. A deficiency of either or both pancreatic hormones was achieved by infusin somatostatin (1 mug/kg per min), a potent inhibitor of both insulin and glucagon secretion, alone or in combination with intraportal replacement infusions of either pancreatic hormone. Infusion of somatostatin alone caused the arterial levels of insulin and glucagon to drop rapidly by 72+/-6 and 81+/-8%, respectively. Intraportal infusion of insulin and glucagon at rates of 400 muU/kg per min and 1 ng/kg per min, respectively, resulted in the maintenance of the basal levels of each hormone. Glucose production was measured using tracer (primed constant infusion of [3-3H]glucose) and arteriovenous difference techniques. Isolated glucagon deficiency resulted in a 35+/-5% (P less than 0.05) rapid and sustained decrease in glucose production which was abolished upon restoration of the plasma glucagon level. Isolated insulin deficiency resulted in a 52+/-16% (P less than 0.01) increase in the rate of glucose production which was abolished when the insulin level was restored. Somatostatin had no effect on glucose production when the changes in the pancreatic hormone levels which it normally induces were prevented by simultaneous intraportal infusion of both insulin and glucagon. In conclusion, in the anesthetized dog fasted overnight; (a) basal glucagon is responsible for at least one-third of basal glucose production, (b) basal insulin prevents the increased glucose production which would result from the unrestrained action of glucagon, and (c) somatostatin has no acute effects on glucose turnover other than those it induces through perturbation of pancreatic hormone secretion. This study indicates that the opposing actions of the two pancreatic hormones are important in the regulation of basal glucose production in the postabsorptive state.