OBJECTIVE: We have reported that glucose utilization regulates leptin expression and secretion from isolated rat adipocytes. In this study, we employed two antidiabetic agents that act to increase glucose uptake by peripheral tissues, metformin and vanadium, as pharmacological tools to examine the effects of altering glucose utilization on leptin secretion in primary cultures of rat adipocytes. RESEARCH METHODS AND PROCEDURES: Isolated adipocytes (100 microL of packed cells per well) were anchored in a defined matrix of basement membrane components (Matrigel) with media containing 5.5 mM glucose and incubated for 96 hours with metformin or vanadium. Leptin secretion, glucose utilization, and lactate production were assessed. RESULTS: Metformin (0.5 and 1.0 mM) increased glucose uptake in the presence of 0.16 nM insulin by 37 +/- 10% (p < 0.005) and 62 +/- 8% (p < 0.0001) over insulin alone, respectively. Metformin from 0.5 to 5.0 mM increased lactate production by 105 +/- 43% (p < 0.025) to 202 +/- 52% (p < 0.0025) and at 1.0 and 5.0 mM increased the proportional rate of glucose conversion to lactate by 78 +/- 18% (p < 0.005) and 166 +/- 41% (p < 0.0025), respectively. At concentrations less than 0.5 mM, metformin did not affect leptin secretion, but at 0.5 mM, the only concentration that significantly increased glucose utilization without increasing glucose conversion to lactate, leptin secretion was modestly stimulated (by 20 +/- 9%; p < 0.05). Concentrations from 1.0 to 25 mM inhibited leptin secretion by 25 +/- 8% (p < 0.005) to 89 +/- 4% (p < 0.0001). Across metformin doses, leptin secretion was inversely related to the percentage of glucose taken up and released as lactate (r = -0.74; p < 0.0001). Vanadium (5 to 20 microM) increased glucose uptake from 20 +/- 7% (p < 0.01) to 34 +/- 13% (p < 0.02) and increased lactate production at 5 microM by 17 +/- 8% (p < 0.025) and 10 microM by 61 +/- 20% (p < 0.02) but did not alter the conversion of glucose to lactate. Vanadium (5 to 50 microM) inhibited leptin secretion by 33 +/- 6% (p < 0.0025) to 61 +/- 8% (p < 0.0001). DISCUSSION: Both metformin and vanadium increase glucose uptake and inhibit leptin secretion from cultured adipocytes. The inhibition of leptin secretion by metformin is related to an increase in the metabolism of glucose to lactate. The inhibition by vanadium most likely involves direct effects on cellular phosphatases. We hypothesize that the effect of glucose utilization to stimulate leptin production involves the metabolism of glucose to a fate other than anaerobic lactate production, possibly oxidation or lipogenesis.