Arterial blood concentrations of insulin, glucagon, and various substrates were determined in six anephric subjects in the postabsorptive state and immediately after hemodialysis. Plasma glucose and serum insulin concentrations were normal, and declined during dialysis. Plasma glucagon was elevated and remained unchanged. There was moderate hypertriglyceridemia before dialysis, but this decreased significantly after administration of heparin just before the start of dialysis, and at the end of dialysis was lowered further into the normal range. Comparison of postabsorptive whole blood concentrations of amino acids with those in normal, healthy adults revealed striking differences. Glutamine, proline, citrulline, glycine and both 1- and 3-methyl-histidines were increased, while serine, glutamate, tyrosine, lysine, and branched-chain amino acids were decreased. The glycine/serine ratio was elevated to 300% and tyrosine/phenylalanine ratio was lowered to 60% of normal. To investigate the potential role of blood cells in amino acid transport, the distribution of individual amino acids in plasma and blood cell compartments was studied. Despite a markedly diminished blood cell mass (mean hematocrit, 20.6 +/- 1.4%), there was no significant decrease in the fraction of most amino acids present in the cell compartment, and this was explained by increases of several amino acids in cellular water. None were decreased. Furthermore, during dialysis, whole blood and plasma amino acids declined by approximately 30% and 40%, respectively, whereas no significant change was observed in the cell compartment. Alanine was the only amino acid whose concentration declined in the cells as well as in plasma. The results indicate (a) significant alterations in the concentrations of hormones and substrates in patients on chronic, intermittent hemodialysis; (b) removal of amino acids during hemodialysis, predominantly from the plasma compartment, with no significant change in cell content; and (c) a redistribution of amino acids in plasma and blood cell compartments with increased gradients of most of the amino acids per unit cell water, by mechanism(s) as yet undetermined.