Clonal insulin-secreting BRIN-BD11 cells were used to examine effects of chronic 72-144 h exposure to the sulphonylureas tolbutamide and glibenclamide on insulin release, cellular insulin content, and mRNA levels of the Kir6.2 and SUR1 subunits of the beta-cell K-ATP channel. Chronic exposure for 72-144 It to 5-100 muM tolbutamide and glibenclamide resulted in a time- and concentration-dependent irreversible decline in sulphonylurea-induced insulin secretion. In contrast, the decline in cellular insulin content induced by chronic exposure to high concentrations of sulphonylureas was readily reversible. Chronic exposure to tolbutamide or glibenclamide had no effect upon transcription of the Kir6.2 or SUR1 subunits of the pancreatic beta-cell K-ATP channel. Whilst further studies are required to understand the precise nature of the chronic interactions of sulphonylurea with the insulin exocytotic mechanism, these observations may partially explain the well-known progressive failure of sulphonylurea therapy in type 2 diabetes. (C) 2003 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.