HIT cells have been widely used to study synthesis and secretion of insulin. It has been assumed that this cell line secretes no other islet hormones. To ascertain whether HIT cells synthesize, secrete, and degrade glucagon, we examined cell extracts for this peptide and compared secretion and degradation of glucagon and insulin during stimulation of the cells by arginine. Glucagon levels in acid extracts of HIT cells were found to be 0.72 ± 0.15 pmol/mg protein. Both glucagon and insulin were maximally stimulated in a glucagon/insulin molar ratio of 0.029 by arginine concentrations of 25-50 nM, and the concentration of arginine that provided half-maximum responses for both hormones was approximately 3 mM. Diminution of arginine-induced glucagon secretion was caused by somatostatin, a physiological inhibitor of pancreatic islet α-cell function. HPLC was used to authenticate the glucagon levels stimulated by arginine for 60 min and measured by RIA. Thirty-six percent of immunoreactive glucagon was found in the fractions representing authentic glucagon, whereas the remaining 64% eluted earlier. Experiments examining the fate of radiolabeled glucagon exposed to HIT cells revealed time-dependent degradation of the radioisotope to earlier eluting forms, which accounted for approximately 50% of the radioactivity by 60 min and was complete by 18 h, indicating that the early peak detected by RIA represented a metabolite of glucagon. Radioisotopic insulin was degraded more slowly with an apparent half-life of approximately 36 h. We conclude that HIT cells are not only able to synthesize, secrete, and degrade insulin, but also much smaller amounts of glucagon.