Japanese-Americans have an increased prevalence of non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus and coronary heart disease when compared to native Japanese. This increase has been associated with fasting hyperinsulinemia, hypertriglyceridemia, and low plasma levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship of both visceral adiposity and insulin resistance to this metabolic syndrome and to the presence of a predominance of small, dense low-density lipoprotein (LDL) particles (LDL subclass phenotype B) that has been associated with increased atherogenic risk. Six Japanese-American men with non-insulin-dependent diabetes, each receiving an oral sulfonylurea, were selected. One or 2 nondiabetic Japanese-American men, matched by age and body mass index, were selected for each diabetic subject, giving a total of 9 nondiabetic men. Diabetic subjects had significantly higher fasting plasma glucose (p=0.0007) and lower insulin sensitivity (SI, p=0.018) using the minimal model technique than nondiabetic subjects matched for body mass index. Six men (2 with diabetes) had LDL phenotype A and 8 (4 with diabetes) had phenotype B. One nondiabetic subject had an intermediate low-density lipoprotein pattern. Significantly greater amounts of intra-abdominal fat (p=0.045) measured by computed tomography were found in the men with phenotype B while fasting insulin (p=0.070) and triglycerides (p=0.051) tended to be higher. free fatty acids (r=0.677), LDL density (relative flotation rate, r=-0.803), and plasma HDL-cholesterol (r=-0.717). SI was significantly correlated only with plasma free fatty acids (r=-0.546) and tended to be correlated with hepatic lipase activity (r=-0.512, p=0.061). In conclusion, these observations indicate that in non-obese Japanese-American men, the metabolic features of the so-called insulin resistance syndrome, including LDL phenotype B, are more strongly correlated with visceral adiposity than with SI. It may therefore be more appropriate to call this the visceral adiposity syndrome. Although questions concerning mechanisms still remain, we postulate that visceral adiposity plays a central role in the development of many of the metabolic abnormalities, including LDL subclass phenotype B, that occur in this metabolic syndrome.