In type 2 diabetes, chronic hyperglycemia has been suggested to be detrimental to β-cell function, causing reduced glucose-stimulated insulin secretion and disproportionately elevated proinsulin. In the present study, we investigated the effect on several β-cell functions of prolonged in vitro exposure of human pancreatic islet cultures to high glucose concentrations. Islets exposed to high glucose levels (33 mmol/l) for 4 and 9 days showed dramatic decreases in glucose-induced insulin release and in islet insulin content, with increased proportion of proinsulin-like peptides relative to insulin. The depletion in insulin stores correlated with the reduction in insulin mRNA levels and human insulin promoter transcriptional activity. We also demonstrated that high glucose dramatically lowered the binding activity of pancreatic duodenal homeobox 1 (the glucose-sensitive transcription factor), whereas the transcription factor rat insulin promoter element 361 activator was less influenced and insulin enhancer factor 1 remained unaffected. Most of these β-cell impairments were partially reversible when islets first incubated for 6 days in high glucose were transferred to normal glucose (5.5 mmol/l) concentrations for 3 days. We conclude that cultured human islets are sensitive to the deleterious effect of high glucose concentrations at multiple functional levels, and that such mechanisms may play an important role in the decreased insulin production and secretion of type 2 diabetic patients.