We investigated the ability of an acute pro-oxidant challenge in vivo to deteriorate glycaemic control and insulin action in the obese Zucker rat, a model of insulin resistance associated with oxidant stress. In obese animals, the daily administration for 1 week of hydroquinone (HQ) in combination with L-buthionine sulphoximine (BSO), elevated fasting plasma glycaemia and insulinaemia and markedly aggravated i.v. glucose-stimulated hyperinsulinaemia without significantly affecting i.v. glucose tolerance, suggesting exacerbated insulin resistance. Intermediate effects on hyperinsulinaemia in obese animals were determined with HQ treatment alone while BSO treatment alone had no effect. In contrast, none of the pro-oxidant treatments affected age-matched, insulin sensitive, lean Zucker rats. Our data therefore demonstrate for the first time, a vulnerability to deterioration in insulin action in an established insulin resistant state following an environmental pro-oxidative insult. This may have relevance in the conversion of insulin resistance syndrome (IRS) to non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM).