The glucokinase gene is expressed not only in pancreatic B cells and in the liver, but also in pancreatic alpha cells, and in some cells of the central nervous system. A decreased glucokinase activity in the latter cell types may interfere with counterregulatory responses to hypoglycemia. In order to assess functional consequences of glucokinase mutations, counterregulatory hormones secretion and glucose production (6,6(- 2) H glucose) were monitored during an hyperinsulinemic clamp at about 2.4 pmol.kg(- 1).min(- 1) insulin with progressive hypoglycemia in 7 maturity onset diabetes of the young (MODY) type 2 patients, 5 patients with type 2 diabetes, and 13 healthy subjects. Basal glucose concentrations were significantly higher in MODY2 patients (7.6 +/- 0.4 mmol.l(- 1) ) and type 2 diabetic patients (12.4 +/- 2.3 mmol.l(- 1) ) than in healthy subjects (5.3 +/- 0.1 mmol.l(- 1), p<0.01) but counterregulatory hormones concentrations were identical. Insulin-mediated glucose disposal and suppression of endogenous glucose production at euglycemia were unchanged in MODY2 patients, but were blunted in type 2 diabetes. During progressive hypoglycemia, the glycemic thresholds of MODY2 patients for increasing glucose production (5.0 +/- 0.4 mmol.l(- 1) ) and for glucagon stimulation (4.5 +/- 0.4 mmol. l(- 1) ) were higher than those of healthy subjects and type 2 diabetic patients (3.9 +/- 0.1 and 4.1 +/- 0.1 mmol.l(- 1) respectively for glucose production and 3.7 +/- 0.1 and 3.5 +/- 0.1 mmol.l(- 1) for glucagon stimulation, p <0.02 in both cases). These results indicate that counterregulatory responses to hypoglycemia are activated at a higher plasma glucose concentration in MODY2 patients. This may be secondary to decreased glucokinase activity in hypothalamic neuronal cells, or to alterations of glucose sensing in pancreatic alpha cells and liver cells.