Tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF) inhibits fat cell differentiation and may also mediate insulin resistance in adipocytes. Both TNF receptors are expressed in adipose tissue, but it is unknown how both receptors are involved in these biological functions. We therefore studied the effect of receptor-specific TNF muteins on adipose differentiation and insulin-stimulated glucose transport of in vitro differentiated human adipocytes in primary culture. Adipocyte precursor cells exposed to the 60-kDa TNF receptor (p60-TNFR)-specific TNF(R32W-S86T) showed a marked decrease in the percentage of differentiating cells in response to adipogenic factors as well as a reduction in peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-gamma2 (PPARgamma2) messenger RNA (mRNA) and glycerophosphate dehydrogenase (GPDH) activity, but increased endogenous TNF mRNA expression. When cells were incubated with the p80-TNFR-specific TNF(D143N-A145R), adipogenesis and PPARgamma2 mRNA expression were stimulated, GPDH activity was unchanged, and TNF mRNA was completely suppressed. Insulin-stimulated 2-deoxy-D-glucose transport was inhibited by both muteins. The p60-TNFR-mediated inhibition increased continuously during 6 h of treatment and was associated with a down-regulation of glucose transporter-4 (GLUT4) mRNA and GLUT4 protein, whereas the p80-TNFR-specific mutein caused a transient increase in GLUT4 mRNA, but did not alter GLUT4 protein expression after a 24-h incubation. We conclude that p60-TNFR mediates the antiadipogenic effect as well as the down-regulation of GLUT4 by TNF, thereby leading to long-term inhibition of insulin-stimulated glucose transport. In contrast, activation of the p80-TNFR induces an adipogenic effect and transiently up-regulates GLUT4 expression. Here, the acute inhibition of insulin-stimulated glucose transport may be induced by interference with the insulin signaling pathway.