Insulin receptor substrate 1 (IRS-1) plays an important role in the insulin signaling cascade. In vitro and in vivo studies from many investigators have suggested that lowering of IRS-1 cellular levels may be a mechanism of disordered insulin action (so-called insulin resistance). We previously reported that the protein levels of IRS-1 were selectively regulated by a proteasome degradation pathway in CHO/IR/IRS-1 cells and 3T3-L1 adipocytes during prolonged insulin exposure, whereas IRS-2 was unaffected. We have now studied the signaling events that are involved in activation of the IRS-1 proteasome degradation pathway. Additionally, we have addressed structural elements in IRS-1 versus IRS-2 that are required for its specific proteasome degradation. Using ts20 cells, which express a temperature-sensitive mutant of ubiquitin-activating enzyme E1, ubiquitination of IRS-1 was shown to be a prerequisite for insulin-induced IRS-1 proteasome degradation. Using IRS-1/IRS-2 chimeric proteins, the N-terminal region of IRS-1 including the PH and PTB domains was identified as essential for targeting IRS-1 to the ubiquitin-proteasome degradation pathway. Activation of phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase is necessary but not sufficient for activating and sustaining the IRS-1 ubiquitin-proteasome degradation pathway. In contrast, activation of mTOR is not required for IRS-1 degradation in CHO/IR cells. Thus, our data provide insight into the molecular mechanism of insulin-induced activation of the IRS-1 ubiquitin-proteasome degradation pathway.