Glucagon-like peptide-1 (7-36) amide (GLP-1) and glucose-dependent insulinotropic peptide (GIP) potentiate glucose-induced insulin release when present at the time of nutrient stimulation. This study examines whether they can also influence rat beta cell responsiveness to subsequent stimulations. When rat beta cells were cultured for 24 h with 1 nM GLP-1, they progressively desensitized to subsequent GLP-1 stimuli, as evidenced by cellular cAMP production. This GLP-1-induced desensitization did not occur when the incretin was only present during three periods of 1 h at 10 mM glucose that alternated with 6-9 h culture at 3 mM glucose. After these 24 h, the beta cells exhibited the same secretory response to glucose (10 mM) and GLP-1 (10 nM at 10 mM glucose), whether GLP-1 was present during the pulses or not. Similarly the presence of 1 nM GIP during these one hour pulses did not influence subsequent secretory responses to glucose and GLP-1. However, when both GLP-1 and GIP, each at 0.5 nM, were added to the one hour pulses, they not only amplified insulin release during the pulses, as was the case with their single addition, but also increased the secretory response to a subsequent stimulation by glucose and GLP-1. These data distinguish between a desensitization effect of a prolonged exposure to GLP-1 and a positive priming effect of a discontinuous exposure to a combination of GLP-1 plus GIP. They may have to be taken into account in drug treatment strategies aiming the mimicking of physiologic patterns in the regulation of insulin release.