Glucose deprivation (hypoglycaemia) is counterbalanced by a neuroendocrine response in order to induce fast delivery of glucose to blood. Some central neurons can sense glucose, but nevertheless the most important glucose sensors/glycaemia regulators are located outside the brain. Some recent experimental evidence obtained in carotid body (CB) slices and isolated chemoreceptor cells in culture supports a role for the CB in glucose sensing and presumably glucose homeostasis, but this role has been questioned on the basis of a lack of effect of low glucose on the carotid sinus nerve activity. This work was performed in an attempt to clarify if low glucose is or is not a stimulus for the rat CB chemoreceptors. Using freshly isolated intact CB preparations we have monitored the release of catecholamines (CAs) and ATP from chemoreceptor cells in response to several concentrations of glucose, as indices of chemoreceptor cell sensitivity to glycaemia, and the electrical activity in the carotid sinus nerve (CSN), as an index of reflex-triggering output of the CB. We have observed that basal (20% O(2)) and hypoxia (7 and 10% O(2))-evoked release of CAs was identical in the presence of normal (5.55 mm) and low (3, 1 and 0 mm) glucose concentrations. 0 mm glucose did not activate the release of ATP from the CB, while hypoxia (5% O(2)) did. Basal and hypoxia (5% O(2))-induced CSN action potential frequency was identical with 5.55 and 1 mm glucose. Our results indicate that low glucose is not a direct stimulus for the rat carotid body chemoreceptors.