We have previously demonstrated that chronic hyperglycemia per se decreases GLUT4 glucose transporter expression and plasma membrane content in mildly streptozotocin- (STZ) diabetic rats (Biochem. J. 284, 341-348, 1992). In the present study, we investigated the effect of an acute rise in glycemia on muscle GLUT4 and GLUT1 protein contents in the plasma membrane, in the absence of insulin elevation. Four experimental groups of rats were analyzed in the postabsorptive state: 1. Control rats. 2. Hyperglycemic STZ-diabetic rats with moderately reduced fasting insulin levels. 3. STZ-diabetic rats made normoglycemic with phlorizin treatment. 4. Phlorizin-treated (normoglycemic) STZ-diabetic rats infused with glucose for 40 min. The uniqueness of the latter model is that glycemia can be rapidly raised without any concomitant increase in plasma insulin levels. Plasma membranes were isolated from hindlimb muscle and GLUT1 and GLUT4 proteins amounts determined by Western blot analysis. As predicted, STZ-diabetes caused a significant decrease in the abundance of GLUT4 in the isolated plasma membranes. Normalization of glycemia for 3 d with phlorizin treatment restored plasma membrane GLUT4 content in muscle of STZ-diabetic rats. A sudden rise in glycemia over a period of 40 min caused the GLUT4 levels in the plasma membrane fraction to decrease to those of nontreated STZ-diabetic rats. In contrast to the GLUT4 transporter, plasma membrane GLUT1 abundance was not changed by the acute glucose challenge. It is concluded that glucose can have regulatory effect by acutely reducing plasma membrane GLUT4 protein contents in rat skeletal muscle. We hypothesize that this glucose-induced downregulation of plasma membrane GLUT4 could represent a protective mechanism against excessive glucose uptake under hyperglycemic conditions accompanied by insulin resistance.