Insulin stimulates glucose uptake into adipocytes by promoting the translocation of the glucose transporter isoform 4 (GLUT4) from intracellular vesicles to the plasma membrane. In 3T3-L1 adipocytes GLUT4 resides both in an endosomal pool, together with transferrin receptors, and in a unique pool termed 'GLUT4 storage vesicles' (GSVs), which excludes endosomal proteins. The trafficking of GLUT4 vesicles was studied in living 3T3-L1 adipocytes by time-lapse confocal microscopy of GLUT4 tagged with green fluorescent protein. GLUT4 vesicles exhibited two types of motion: rapid vibrations around a point and short (generally less than 10 microm) linear movements. The linear movements were completely blocked by incubation of the cells in the presence of microtubule-depolymerizing agents. This suggests that a subpopulation of GLUT4 vesicles can exhibit motor-driven movements along microtubules. Upon further examination, microtubule depolymerization inhibited insulin-stimulated glucose uptake and GLUT4 translocation to the plasma membrane by approx. 40%, but had no effect on insulin-induced translocation of the transferrin receptor to the plasma membrane from endosomes. We propose that an intact microtubule cytoskeleton may be required for optimal trafficking of GLUT4 present in the GSV pool, but not that resident in the endosomal pool.