Primary human skeletal muscle cell cultures derived from muscles of a myotonic dystrophy (DM) fetus provided a model in which both resistance to insulin action described in DM patient muscles and the potential ability of insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I) to circumvent this defect could be investigated. Basal glucose uptake was the same in cultured DM cells as in normal myotubes. In DM cells, a dose of 10 nM insulin produced no stimulatory effect on glucose uptake, and at higher concentrations, stimulation of glucose uptake remained significantly lower than that in normal myotubes. In addition, basal and insulin-mediated protein synthesis were both significantly reduced compared with those in normal cells. In DM myotubes, insulin receptor messenger RNA expression and insulin receptor binding were significantly diminished, whereas the expression of GLUT1 and GLUT4 glucose transporters was not affected. These results indicate that impaired insulin action is retained in DM cultured myotubes. The action of recombinant human IGF-I (rhIGF-I) was evaluated in this cellular model. We showed that rhIGF-I is able to stimulate glucose uptake to a similar extent as in control cells and restore normal protein synthesis level in DM myotubes. Thus, rhIGF-I is able to bypass impaired insulin action in DM myotubes. This provides a solid foundation for the eventual use of rhIGF-I as an effective treatment of muscle weakness and wasting in DM.