Abstract The conversion of dihomogamma linolenic acid (DHLA) into arachidonic acid (AA) was compared in normal subjects and diabetic patients before and after treatment with insulin. The kinetics of the incorporation of deuterium-labeled DHLA and its conversion product, deuterium-labeled AA, was determined in plasma triglycerides, plasma phospholipids, and platelet lipids of subjects after ingestion of 2 g of the labeled precursor. Analysis was performed by gas liquid chromatographymass spectrometry using multiple ion detection. In normal subjects, the deuterium-labeled DHLA concentration rose to 24 to 69 mg/L in plasma triglycerides four to nine hours after ingestion and to 20 to 34 mg/L in plasma phospholipids about four hours later. Deuterium-labeled AA appeared at 12 hours, rose to 2.4 to 3.8 mg/L between 48 and 72 hours in plasma phospholipids, but remained at the limit of detection in plasma triglycerides and was undetectable in platelet lipids. In diabetic patients both before and after insulin treatment, the deuterium-labeled DHLA concentration in plasma triglycerides and in plasma phospholipids followed the same pattern as in normal subjects. However, the deuterium-labeled arachidonic acid concentration was below 1 mg/L in plasma phospholipids before insulin. After insulin treatment the patients recovered normal DHLA metabolism because deuterium-labeled AA rose in phospholipids to a mean value of 3.5 mg/L, which is in the same range as that observed in normal subjects (3.2 mg/L). The present data provide direct evidence for the conversion of DHLA into AA in humans. The effect of insulin and the data from the literature of animal studies suggest insulin dependence of delta 5 desaturase in humans. AA concentrations of 2.5 mg/L in plasma phospholipids can be expected from the biologic conversion of 2 g of exogenous DHLA.