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The roles of liver, kidney, and gut in maintaining fuel homeostasis were studied in 28 patients with severe hepatic cirrhosis, 25 of whom had alcohol-induced cirrhosis. Hepatic, portal, and renal blood flow rates were measured and combined with substrate concentration differences across liver, gut, and kidney to calculate the net flux of free fatty acids, ketone bodies, triglycerides, and glucose with selected glucose precursors, including glycerol, lactate, pyruvate, and amino acids. Data from the catheterization studies were related to hepatic histology, glycogen content, and activities of gluconeogenic enzymes and compared with data obtained from control patients. The effects of food deprivation on net flux of fuels across the liver, gut, and kidney were assessed after overnight and after 3d of fasting. Activities of gluconeogenic enzymes were normal, but hepatic glycogen content was diminished in cirrhotic livers, probably as a consequence of extensive hepatic fibrosis. Extrahepatic splanchnic tissues (gut) had only a small influence on total splanchnic flux rates of carbohydrates, lipids and, amino acids. In cirrhotic patients, there was no mean renal glucose contribution to the bloodstream after an overnight or after a 3-d fast. After an overnight fast hepatic glucose production in patients with cirrhosis was diminished as a result of low-rate glycogenolysis. Hepatic gluconeogenesis and ketogenesis were increased. This pattern of hepatic metabolism mimics that seen in "normal" patients after more advanced stages of starvation. After 3 d of starvation, patients with hepatic cirrhosis have hepatic gluconeogenic and ketogenic profiles comparable to those of normal patients undergoing starvation of similar duration. Nevertheless, the total number of caloric equivalents derived from ketone bodies plus glucose corrected for recycled lactate and pyruvate added to the bloodstream by the cirrhotic livers that could be terminally oxidized by peripheral tissues was less than the contributions made by the normal livers, both after and overnight and after a 3-d fast.