L6 muscle cells grown in culture to the stage of fused myotubes were incubated with the oral hypoglycemic drug metformin to test the effects of this drug on glucose transport. Metformin increased the initial rate of uptake of 2-deoxyglucose and 3-O-methylglucose. The effect was time dependent, with half-maximal stimulation at 5-6 h and maximal stimulation by about 16 h. The stimulation of hexose uptake was not prevented by cycloheximide. In 15 mM glucose medium, the basal rate of transport was lower than in 5 mM glucose medium. The stimulation of hexose uptake by metformin was comparable in absolute units in both media; hence, relative to basal uptake, stimulation was greater in the high glucose medium than in the low glucose medium. In 5 mM glucose medium, half-maximal stimulation was obtained with 800 microM metformin when tested for 24 h. The stimulation of hexose transport by metformin was only detectable in fused myotubes and not in perfusion myoblasts. No significant changes were observed in glucose transporter levels in total cell membranes from L6 myotubes (measured as D-glucose-protectable binding sites for cytochalasin-B) or in the total levels of the immunoreactive glucose transporter isoforms GLUT4 or GLUT1. It is concluded that metformin stimulates hexose transport into differentiated muscle cells by acting at a posttranslational level. We speculate that this might also constitute the basis for the ability of the drug to lower glycemia in diabetic individuals.