Here we report that the widely used protein kinase C inhibitors, bisindolylmaleimide I and IX, are potent inhibitors of glycogen synthase kinase-3 (GSK-3). Bisindolylmaleimide I and IX inhibited GSK-3 in vitro, when assayed either in cell lysates (IC(50) 360 nM and 6.8 nM, respectively) or in GSK-3beta immunoprecipitates (IC(50) 170 nM and 2.8 nM, respectively) derived from rat epididymal adipocytes. Pretreatment of adipocytes with bisindolylmaleimide I (5 microM) and IX (2 microM) reduced GSK-3 activity in total cell lysates, to 25.1+/-4.3% and 12.9+/-3.0% of control, respectively. By contrast, bisindolylmaleimide V (5 microM), which lacks the functional groups present on bisindolylmaleimide I and IX, had little apparent effect. We propose that bisindolylmaleimide I and IX can directly inhibit GSK-3, and that this may explain some of the previously reported insulin-like effects on glycogen synthase activity.