Insulin rapidly stimulates tyrosine phosphorylation of a protein of approximately 185 kD in most cell types. This protein, termed insulin receptor substrate-1 (IRS-1), has been implicated in insulin signal transmission based on studies with insulin receptor mutants. In the present study we have examined the levels of IRS-1 and the phosphorylation state of insulin receptor and IRS-1 in liver and muscle after insulin stimulation in vivo in two rat models of insulin resistance, i.e., insulinopenic diabetes and fasting, and a mouse model of non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (ob/ob) by immunoblotting with anti-peptide antibodies to IRS-1 and anti-phosphotyrosine antibodies. As previously described, there was an increase in insulin binding and a parallel increase in insulin-stimulated receptor phosphorylation in muscle of fasting and streptozotocin-induced (STZ) diabetic rats. There was also a modest increase in overall receptor phosphorylation in liver in these two models, but when normalized for the increase in binding, receptor phosphorylation was decreased, in liver and muscle of STZ diabetes and in liver of 72 h fasted rats. In the hyperinsulinemic ob/ob mouse there was a decrease in insulin binding and receptor phosphorylation in both liver and muscle. The tyrosyl phosphorylation of IRS-1 after insulin stimulation reflected an amplification of the receptor phosphorylation in liver and muscle of hypoinsulinemic animals (fasting and STZ diabetes) with a twofold increase, and showed a significant reduction (approximately 50%) in liver and muscle of ob/ob mouse. By contrast, the levels of IRS-1 protein showed a tissue specific regulation with a decreased level in muscle and an increased level in liver in hypoinsulinemic states of insulin resistance, and decreased levels in liver in the hyperinsulinemic ob/ob mouse. These data indicate that: (a) IRS-1 protein levels are differentially regulated in liver and muscle; (b) insulin levels may play a role in this differential regulation of IRS-1; (c) IRS-1 phosphorylation depends more on insulin receptor kinase activity than IRS-1 protein levels; and (d) reduced IRS-1 phosphorylation in liver and muscle may play a role in insulin-resistant states, especially of the ob/ob mice.