To investigate whether microalbuminuria is associated with the insulin resistance syndrome independent of hypertension and type 2 diabetes, we studied the association between microalbuminuria and features of insulin resistance syndrome in Korean general population. We selected 1006 subjects by a random cluster sampling among residents aged >40 years living in the Chung-Up district, a rural area of South Korea. Subjects were stratified by oral glucose tolerance status [normal glucose tolerance (NGT), impaired glucose tolerance (IGT), and diabetes mellitus], and by the presence or absence of hypertension. Urinary albumin excretion rate (UAER) was determined using timed overnight urine collection. Various cardiovascular risk factors including anthropometric indices, serum lipid, true insulin and proinsulin concentrations were also measured. The prevalence of microalbuminuria (UAER between 20 and 200 microg/min) increased as the glucose tolerance worsened (6.0% in NGT, 11.8% in IGT, and 21.8% in diabetes; chi(2) trend=25.9, P<0.001). Subjects with microalbuminuria had a higher body mass index (BMI), waist-to-hip circumference ratio (WHR), systolic and diastolic blood pressure (BP), fasting and 2 h plasma glucose, fasting plasma insulin and proinsulin levels, and lower HDL-cholesterol level than subjects without microalbuminuria. In multiple regression analysis, BMI, diastolic BP, 2 h plasma glucose, and fasting plasma insulin levels were found to be independent factors associated with UAER. Multiple logistic regression analysis showed that not only diabetes mellitus and hypertension, but also fasting hyperinsulinemia and waist-to-hip ratio were independent factors associated with the presence of microalbuminuria. When the normotensive, non-diabetic subjects were analyzed separately, fasting hyperinsulinemia and impaired glucose tolerance remained independent variables associated with the presence of microalbuminuria. These results show that microalbuminuria in the Korean general population is associated with hyperinsulinemia and central obesity, and suggest that microalbuminuria is a feature of the insulin resistance syndrome independent of hypertension or type 2 diabetes.