1. The effect of dexamethasone (30 μg day−1 100 g−1 body wt.) on the metabolism of glucose and glutamine was studied in the small intestine of rats after 9 days of treatment.
2. Dexamethasone treatment resulted in negative nitrogen balance (P < 0.001), and produced increases in the concentrations of plasma glucose (22%, P < 0.05), alanine (32%, P < 0.001) and insulin (127%, P < 0.001), but a decrease in the plasma concentration of glutamine (20%, P < 0.05).
3. Portal-drained visceral blood flow increased by approximately 22% (P < 0.001) in dexamethasone-treated rats, and was accompanied by a decrease in the arteriovenous concentration difference of glucose (43%, P < 0.001) and an increase in that of lactate (22%, P < 0.05), glutamine (35%, P < 0.01), glutamate (33%, P < 0.01) and alanine (21%, P < 0.05).
4. Enterocytes isolated from dexamethasone-treated rats showed decreased and increased rates of glucose and glutamine utilization, respectively.
5. The maximal activities of hexokinase, 6-phosphofructokinase, citrate synthase and oxoglutarate dehydrogenase were decreased (30–64%, P < 0.001) in intestinal mucosal scrapings of dexamethasone-treated rats, whereas the activity of glutaminase was increased (35%, P < 0.001).
6. It is concluded that glucocorticoid administration decreases the rate of glucose utilization but increases that of glutamine (both in vivo and in vitro) by the epithelial cells of the small intestine. This may be caused by changes in the maximal activities of key enzymes in the pathways of glucose and glutamine metabolism in these cells.