Cystic fibrosis (CF) is associated with a high incidence of diabetes. Studies evaluating causes of CF-related diabetes (CFRD) have consistently documented decreased insulin secretion. In patients with CFRD, insulin sensitivity has been documented to be decreased, but controversy exists in patients with normal or impaired glucose tolerance (IGT). We undertook this study 1) to reexplore insulin sensitivity in patients with IGT and 2) to evaluate potential mechanisms of insulin resistance in CF, including GLUT-4 translocation, elevation of serum cytokines, and free fatty acid (FFA) levels. We recruited nine CF subjects with impaired glucose tolerance (IGTCF) and nine age-, gender-, and body mass index-matched control volunteers. Each underwent a hyperinsulinemic euglycemic clamp (200 mU. m(-2). min(-1)) to measure insulin sensitivity. A muscle biopsy was obtained at maximal insulin stimulation for measure of GLUT-4 translocation with sucrose gradients. An oral glucose tolerance test and National Institutes of Health (NIH) clinical status scores were measured in all volunteers. We also measured tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha levels and FFA in all subjects. Additionally, we report the results of TNF-alpha and FFA in 32 CF patients previously studied by our group. Results were that glucose disposal rate (GDR) was significantly lower in the CFIGT subjects than in controls, indicative of impaired insulin action. GLUT-4 translocation was impaired in CF and correlated with GDR. TNF-alpha levels were higher in all CF subjects than in controls and correlated with GDR. There was no difference in FFA between CF and control subjects. Modified NIH clinical status scores were inversely correlated with GDR and TNF-alpha levels. We conclude that IGTCF patients have decreased peripheral insulin sensitivity. Mechanisms include elevation of TNF-alpha and impaired translocation of GLUT-4.