Abdominal obesity and physical inactivity are associated with insulin resistance in humans and contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes. Likewise, sustained increases in the concentration of malonyl coenzyme A (CoA), an inhibitor of fatty-acid oxidation, have been observed in muscle in association with insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes in various rodents. In the present study, we assessed whether these factors are present in a defined population of slightly overweight (body mass index, 26.2 kg/m2), insulin-resistant patients with type 2 diabetes. Thirteen type 2 diabetic men and 17 sex-, age-, and body mass index-matched control subjects were evaluated. Insulin sensitivity was assessed during a two-step euglycemic insulin clamp (infusion of 0.25 and 1.0 mU/kg x min). The rates of glucose administered during the low-dose insulin clamp were 2.0 +/- 0.2 vs. 0.7 +/- 0.2 mg/kg body weight x min (P < 0.001) in the control and diabetic subjects, respectively; rates during the high-dose insulin clamp were 8.3 +/- 0.7 vs. 4.6 +/- 0.4 mg/kg body weight x min (P < 0.001) for controls and diabetic subjects. The diabetic patients had a significantly lower maximal oxygen uptake than control subjects (29.4 +/- 1.0 vs. 33.4 +/- 1.4 ml/kg x min; P = 0.03) and a greater total body fat mass (3.7 kg), mainly due to an increase in truncal fat (16.5 +/- 0.9 vs. 13.1 +/- 0.9 kg; P = 0.02). The plasma concentration of free fatty acid and the rate of fatty acid oxidation during the clamps were both higher in the diabetic subjects than the control subjects (P = 0.002-0.007). In addition, during the high-dose insulin clamp, the increase in cytosolic citrate and malate in muscle, which parallels and regulates malonyl CoA levels, was significantly less in the diabetic patients (P < 0.05 vs. P < 0.001). Despite this, a similar increase in the concentration of malonyl CoA was observed in the two groups, suggesting an abnormality in malonyl CoA regulation in the diabetic subjects. In conclusion, the results confirm that insulin sensitivity is decreased in slightly overweight men with mild type 2 diabetes and that this correlates closely with an increase in truncal fat mass and a decrease in physical fitness. Whether the unexpectedly high levels of malonyl CoA in muscle, together with the diminished suppression of plasma free fatty acid, explains the insulin resistance of the diabetic patients during the clamp remains to be determined.