The objective of this study was to determine whether basal plasma free fatty acid (FFA) concentrations affect basal insulin secretion rates (ISRs). Effects of FFA levels on basal ISRs were evaluated by lowering basal plasma FFA levels with nicotinic acid (NA) (100-150 mg p.o., q 30 min x 4 h) in type 2 diabetic patients and in normal volunteers. Lowering of FFAs (from approximately 600 to approximately 100 micromol/l) lowered ISRs in type 2 diabetic patients during isoglycemic clamping (from 139 to 101 pmol/min; -23%; P < 0.02) and euglycemic clamping (from 99 to 63 pmol/min; -36%; P < 0.03) and in normal subjects during euglycemic clamping (from 127 to 96 pmol/min; -25%; P < 0.03). In addition, peripheral insulin concentrations decreased by approximately 30% in diabetic and nondiabetic subjects. NA had no direct effect on ISRs; that is, NA did not change ISRs when plasma FFAs were prevented from decreasing with a lipid/heparin infusion. We concluded that 1) basal plasma FFAs exerted physiologically important, long-lasting effects supporting 25-33% of basal insulin secretion in nondiabetic and diabetic subjects; 2) basal plasma FFAs were responsible for some of the hyperinsulinemia in normoglycemic obese subjects; and 3) NA had no direct effect on insulin secretion.