Pancreatic beta-cell ATP-sensitive potassium (K ATP) channels are critical links between nutrient metabolism and insulin secretion. In humans, reduced or absent beta-cell K ATP channel activity resulting from loss-of-function K ATP mutations induces insulin hypersecretion. Mice with reduced K ATP channel activity also demonstrate hyperinsulinism, but mice with complete loss of K ATP channels (K ATP knockout mice) show an unexpected insulin undersecretory phenotype. Therefore we have proposed an "inverse U" hypothesis to explain the response to enhanced excitability, in which excessive hyperexcitability drives beta-cells to insulin secretory failure without cell death. Many patients with type 2 diabetes treated with antidiabetic sulfonylureas (which inhibit K ATP activity and thereby enhance insulin secretion) show long-term insulin secretory failure, which we further suggest might reflect a similar progression. To test the above hypotheses, and to mechanistically investigate the consequences of prolonged hyperexcitability in vivo, we used a novel approach of implanting mice with slow-release sulfonylurea (glibenclamide) pellets, to chronically inhibit beta-cell K ATP channels. Glibenclamide-implanted wild-type mice became progressively and consistently diabetic, with significantly (p < 0.05) reduced insulin secretion in response to glucose. After 1 wk of treatment, these mice were as glucose intolerant as adult K ATP knockout mice, and reduction of secretory capacity in freshly isolated islets from implanted animals was as significant (p < 0.05) as those from K ATP knockout animals. However, secretory capacity was fully restored in islets from sulfonylurea-treated mice within hours of drug washout and in vivo within 1 mo after glibenclamide treatment was terminated. Pancreatic immunostaining showed normal islet size and alpha-/beta-cell distribution within the islet, and TUNEL staining showed no evidence of apoptosis. These results demonstrate that chronic glibenclamide treatment in vivo causes loss of insulin secretory capacity due to beta-cell hyperexcitability, but also reveal rapid reversibility of this secretory failure, arguing against beta-cell apoptosis or other cell death induced by sulfonylureas. These in vivo studies may help to explain why patients with type 2 diabetes can show long-term secondary failure to secrete insulin in response to sulfonylureas, but experience restoration of insulin secretion after a drug resting period, without permanent damage to beta-cells. This finding suggests that novel treatment regimens may succeed in prolonging pharmacological therapies in susceptible individuals.