Insulin-induced glucose metabolism was investigated in 26 patients with biopsy-proven liver cirrhosis and 10 control subjects. Two glucose clamp protocols together with continuous indirect calorimetry were performed to examine whether reduced rates of glucose oxidation and/or nonoxidative glucose metabolism explain insulin resistance in liver cirrhosis. Using a 4-hour, two-step protocol (0-2 hours, plasma glucose 5.2 mmol/L, plasma insulin 92 mU/L to test the half-maximum response; 2-4 hours, hyperglycemia 10.0 mmol/L, plasma insulin 442 mU/L to test the maximum cellular glucose disposal) liver cirrhosis reduced glucose disposal to 45% and 60% of control values, respectively. Simultaneously, insulin-induced increases in glucose oxidation, plasma lactate levels, and lipogenesis were normal, whereas nonoxidative glucose metabolism was reduced (-82% and -47% of controls, respectively). To determine whether reduced nonoxidative glucose metabolism was caused by reduced glucose disposal, glucose disposal was "matched" to normal values in a subgroup of cirrhotic patients. Nonoxidative glucose metabolism values were normal, but plasma lactate concentrations disproportionally increased (+96%) after "matching" glucose disposal. Insulin resistance was independent of the etiology of the cirrhosis, the biochemical parameters of parenchymal cell damage and liver function, and the clinical and nutritional state of the patients. It is concluded that liver cirrhosis impairs insulin sensitivity and maximum cellular glucose disposal. Reduced glucose disposal is caused by defective glucose storage. Insulin resistance is independent of the etiology of liver cirrhosis and of the clinical and nutritional state of the patient.