We examined the signaling pathways regulating glycogen synthase (GS) in primary cultures of rat hepatocytes. The activation of GS by insulin and glucose was completely reversed by the phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase inhibitor wortmannin. Wortmannin also inhibited insulin-induced phosphorylation and activation of protein kinase B/Akt (PKB/Akt) as well as insulin-induced inactivation of GS kinase-3 (GSK-3), consistent with a role for the phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase/PKB-Akt/GSK-3 axis in insulin-induced GS activation. Although wortmannin completely inhibited the significantly greater level of GS activation produced by the insulin-mimetic bisperoxovanadium 1,10-phenanthroline (bpV(phen)), there was only minimal accompanying inhibition of bpV(phen)-induced phosphorylation and activation of PKB/Akt, and inactivation of GSK-3. Thus, PKB/Akt activation and GSK-3 inactivation may be necessary but are not sufficient to induce GS activation in rat hepatocytes. Rapamycin partially inhibited the GS activation induced by bpV(phen) but not that effected by insulin. Both insulin- and bpV(phen)-induced activation of the atypical protein kinase C (zeta/lambda) (PKC (zeta/lambda)) was reversed by wortmannin. Inhibition of PKC (zeta/lambda) with a pseudosubstrate peptide had no effect on GS activation by insulin, but substantially reversed GS activation by bpV(phen). The combination of this inhibitor with rapamycin produced an additive inhibitory effect on bpV(phen)-mediated GS activation. Taken together, our results indicate that the signaling components mammalian target of rapamycin and PKC (zeta/lambda) as well as other yet to be defined effector(s) contribute to the modulation of GS in rat hepatocytes.