The pathways of glycogen synthesis from glucose were studied using double-isotope procedures in 18-day cultured foetal-rat hepatocytes in which glycogenesis is strongly stimulated by insulin. When the medium containing 4 mM-glucose was supplemented with [2-3H,U-14C]glucose or [3-3H,U-14C]glucose, the ratios of 3H/14C in glycogen relative to that in glucose were 0.23 +/- 0.04 (n = 6) and 0.63 +/- 0.09 (n = 8) respectively after 2 h. This indicates that more than 75% of glucose was first metabolized to fructose 6-phosphate, whereas 40% reached the step of the triose phosphates prior to incorporation into glycogen. The stimulatory effect of 10 nM-insulin on glycogenesis (4-fold) was accompanied by a significant increase in the (3H/14C in glycogen)/(3H/14C in glucose) ratio with 3H in the C-2 position (0.29 +/- 0.05, n = 6, P less than 0.001) or in the C-3 position (0.68 +/- 0.09, n = 8, P less than 0.01) of glucose, whereas the effect of a 12 mM-glucose load (3.5-fold) did not alter these ratios. Fructose (4 mM) displaced [U-14C]glucose during labelling of glycogen in the presence and absence of insulin by 50 and 20% respectively, and produced under both conditions a similar increase (45%) in the (3H/14C in glycogen)/(3H/14C in glucose) ratio when 3H was in the C-2 position. 3-Mercaptopicolinate (1 mM), an inhibitor of gluconeogenesis from lactate/pyruvate, further decreased the already poor labelling of glycogen from [U-14C]alanine, whereas it increased both glycogen content and incorporation of label from [U-14C]serine and [U-14C]glucose with no effect on the relative 3H/14C ratios in glycogen and glucose with 3H in the C-3 position of glucose. These results indicate that an alternative pathway in addition to direct glucose incorporation is involved in glycogen synthesis in cultured foetal hepatocytes, but that insulin preferentially favours the classical direct route. The alternative foetal pathway does not require gluconeogenesis from pyruvate-derived metabolites, contrary to the situation in the adult liver.

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