Clinical and experimental studies have implicated high circulating levels of the cytokine tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) in the pathogenesis of insulin resistance, not only in obesity and diabetes, but also in clinical conditions associated with cachexia and sepsis. TNF-alpha impairs insulin-mediated glucose uptake in adipocytes, but because of lipolytic effects the interpretation of clinical studies and the extent to which TNF-alpha affects muscle insulin sensitivity are unclear. In addition, protein kinase C (PKC) has recently been implicated in the mechanism of TNF-alpha-induced insulin resistance. The present study investigated the effects of TNF-alpha and a PKC inhibitor (RO-318220) on basal and insulin-stimulated 2-[(3)H]deoxyglucose uptake in cultured L6 myoblasts. Reverse transcriptase-PCR analysis confirmed that L6 myoblasts express TNF-alpha receptors I and II (p60 and p80). Dose-response curves for glucose uptake were fitted to a quadratic function to derive C(I-150) values (concentration of insulin required to increase glucose uptake by 50%). Incubation with TNF-alpha at 1 or 10 ng/ml for 24 h had no significant effect on basal glucose uptake, insulin sensitivity or maximal insulin responsiveness. C(I-150) values (means+/-S.E.M.) were as follows: basal, 91.2+/-13 nM; 1 ng/ml TNF-alpha, 102+/-12 nM; and basal, 70.8+/-13 nM; 10 ng/ml TNF-alpha, 43.7+/-40 nM. PKC inhibition markedly attenuated glucose uptake, but there was no difference in insulin sensitivity with RO-318220 alone compared with RO-318220+TNF-alpha. In conclusion, although increased TNF-alpha expression and plasma concentrations have been implicated in the pathogenesis of insulin resistance in various clinical states, there is no evidence that TNF-alpha impairs insulin-stimulated glucose uptake in a skeletal-muscle-derived cell line.