The role of serine as a possible intermediate of the alternative pathway from glucose to glycogen was investigated under basal and insulin-stimulated conditions in 18-day cultured foetal-rat hepatocytes because these cells cannot use pyruvate-derived metabolites [Bismut & Plas (1989) Biochem. J. 263, 889-895]. Incubation of cells with [U-14C]glucose for 24 h led to a release of labelled serine in the medium concomitantly with a net serine production (100 nmol/24 h per culture). The rate of [14C]serine formation (close to 3 nmol/h per culture) indicated that a large part of newly formed serine originated from glucose. When short-term experiments were performed at day 2, glycogen labelling from [U-14C]serine or [U-14C]glycine, which was increased 3-fold by insulin after 2 h, evidenced their participation as glycogenic precursors. When a double-isotope procedure with [U-14C,3-3H]glucose was used, the direct and the alternative pathways from glucose were found to contribute to glycogenesis by 75 and 25% respectively. Cycloserine (18 mM), a transaminase inhibitor, strongly inhibited glycogen labelling from [U-14C] serine while producing a 70% increase in glucose incorporation by the alternative pathway, in both the presence and the absence of insulin. The inhibitor had no effect on the direct pathway from glucose to glycogen. Supplementation with 1 mM-hydroxypyruvate, a serine-derived metabolite, did not affect direct glucose incorporation, whereas the alternative pathway was stimulated whether insulin was present or not. These results indicate that the sequence glucose----serine----glycogen is operative in cultured foetal hepatocytes. The alternative pathway interferes with hydroxypyruvate utilization, and is likely mediated by the serine aminotransferase pathway, independently of the acute glycogenic action of insulin.