It has recently been suggested that insulin augments its own production by a physiologically important feed-forward autocrine loop. We studied the kinetics of glucose-regulated proinsulin gene expression and proinsulin biosynthesis in normal rat islets with emphasis on the potential role of insulin as a mediator of the glucose effect. There was a time-dependent increase in steady-state proinsulin mRNA in islets cultured at 16.7 mmol/l compared with 3.3 mmol/l glucose; no early (1-3 h) increase in proinsulin gene expression was observed. In contrast, there was a threefold increase in proinsulin biosynthesis within 1 h of glucose stimulation that was not affected by inhibition of glucose-stimulated proinsulin gene transcription with actinomycin D. In addition, inhibition of glucose-stimulated insulin secretion with diazoxide had no effect on glucose-stimulated proinsulin mRNA or biosynthesis. Furthermore, addition of different concentrations of insulin to islets cultured in low glucose failed to affect proinsulin biosynthesis. Taken together, our data suggest that the early glucose-dependent increase in proinsulin biosynthesis is mainly regulated at the translational level, rather than by changes in proinsulin gene expression. Moreover, we could not demonstrate any effect of insulin on islet proinsulin mRNA level or rate of proinsulin biosynthesis. Thus, if insulin has any effect on the proinsulin biosynthetic apparatus, it is a minor one. We conclude that the secreted insulin is not an important mediator of insulin production in response to glucose.