Glucose metabolism in splenocytes from the BB rat was studied for the presence of abnormalities in [14C] 2-deoxy-D-glucose (2-dGlc) uptake, [U-14C]glucose conversion to 14CO2, and the production of lactate and pyruvate. Cells were studied freshly isolated ("resting"), and following culture both unstimulated (control) and stimulated with concanavalin A (ConA) or phorbol myristate acetate (PMA) + ionomycin. Both resting and control cells from diabetic (BBd) and diabetes-prone (BBdp) rats transported more (p less than 0.05) 2-dGlc than did cells from nondiabetes-prone (BBn) rats. Consistent with prior in vivo activation, sustained in vitro, lactate production was higher (p less than 0.05) under control conditions in BBd and BBdp than in BBn cells. Lactate production increased less with ConA and PMA + ionomycin in both BBd and BBdp than in BBn cells. PMA + ionomycin increased 2-dGlc uptake as much in BBd and BBdp cells as in BBn cells. Elevated rates of pyruvate production were observed in BBd cells under resting, control, and (especially) ConA conditions, suggesting an abnormality in pyruvate conversion to lactate. Few changes were observed in 14CO2 production. The presence of similar abnormalities in BBdp cells to those of the BBd cells suggests that the diabetic state is not causal, and the absence of an in vitro effect of 15 mmol/liter glucose in BBn cells further tends to exclude hyperglycemia as a cause of these alterations.