Studies were conducted to determine whether the direction of hepatic carbohydrate and lipid metabolism in the rat could be switched simultaneously from a 'fasted' to a 'fed' profile in vitro. When incubated for 2 h under appropriate conditions hepatocytes from fasted animals could be induced to synthesize glycogen at in vivo rates. There was concomitant marked elevation of the tissue malonyl-coenzyme A level, acceleration of fatty acid synthesis, and suppression of fatty acid oxidation and ketogenesis. In agreement with reports from some laboratories, but contrary to popular belief, glucose was not taken up efficiently by the cells and was thus a poor substrate for either glycogen synthesis or lipogenesis. The best precursor for glycogen formation was fructose, whereas lactate (pyruvate) was most efficient in lipogenesis. In both cases the addition of glucose to the gluconeogenic substrates was stimulatory, the highest rates being obtained with the further inclusion of glutamine. Insulin was neither necessary for, nor did it stimulate, glycogen deposition or fatty acid synthesis under favorable substrate conditions. Glucagon at physiological concentrations inhibited both glycogen formation and fatty acid synthesis. Insulin readily reversed the effects of glucagon in the submaximal range of its concentration curve. The following conclusions were drawn. First, the fasted-to-fed transition of hepatic carbohydrate and lipid metabolism can be accomplished in vitro over a time frame similar to that operative in vivo. Second, reversal appears to be a substrate-driven phenomenon, in that insulin is not required. Third, unless an unidentified factor (present in portal blood during feeding) facilitates the uptake of glucose by liver it seems unlikely that glucose is the immediate precursor for liver glycogen or fat synthesis in vivo. A likely candidate for the primary substrate in both processes is lactate, which is rapidly formed from glucose by the small intestine and peripheral tissues. Fructose and amino acids may also contribute. Fourth, the requirement for insulin in the reversal of the fasting state of liver metabolism in vivo can best be explained by its ability to offset the catabolic actions of glucagon.
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