We investigated the regulation of the mRNA expression of the insulin receptor, insulin receptor substrate-1 (IRS-1) and p85alpha-phosphatidylinositol-3-kinase (PI-3K), three major actors of insulin action, in skeletal muscle from 10 healthy lean volunteers, 13 obese patients with Type II (non-insulin-dependent) diabetes mellitus and 7 non-diabetic obese subjects. The in vivo regulation by insulin was studied using a 3-h euglycaemic, hyperinsulinaemic clamp. There were no differences in the basal concentrations of the three mRNAs in skeletal muscle between groups. Insulin infusion produced a twofold reduction in insulin receptor substrate-1 mRNA expression in the three groups (p<0.02). In contrast, insulin increased p85alpha-phosphatidylinositol-3-kinase mRNA expression in muscle from non-diabetic subjects (+98+/-22% in lean and +127+/-16% in obese, p<0.02) but this effect was totally impaired in Type II diabetic patients (+5+/-12%, NS). A similar defect in insulin action on p85alpha-phosphatidylinositol-3-kinase mRNA expression was observed in abdominal subcutaneous adipose tissue (+138+/-25%, p<0.01 in lean and +46+/-14%, p<0.02 in obese and +29+/-11%, NS in Type II diabetic patients). The lack of action of insulin on p85alpha-phosphatidylinositol-3-kinase mRNA in diabetic subjects was probably not due to a deleterious effect of hyperglycaemia since improvement of the glycaemic control for 10 days did not restore the response in muscle or in adipose tissue. This study provides evidence for a defect in the regulation by insulin of PI-3K gene expression in Type II diabetic patients, thus reinforcing the concept that alterations at the gene expression might be involved in the pathogeny of Type II diabetes.