Oxidative stress is characterized as an imbalance between the cellular production of oxidants and the cellular antioxidant defenses and contributes to the development of numerous cardiovascular and metabolic disorders, including hypertension and insulin resistance. The effects of prolonged oxidant stress in vitro on the insulin-dependent glucose transport system in mammalian skeletal muscle are not well understood. This study examined the in vitro effects of low-level oxidant stress (60-90 microM, H(2)O(2)) for 4 h on insulin-stimulated (5 mU/ml) glucose transport activity (2-deoxyglucose uptake) and on protein expression of critical insulin signaling factors (insulin receptor (IR), IR substrates IRS-1 and IRS-2, phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase, Akt, and glycogen synthase kinase-3 (GSK-3)) in isolated soleus muscle of lean Zucker rats. This oxidant stress exposure caused significant (50%, p<0.05) decreases in insulin-stimulated glucose transport activity that were associated with selective loss of IRS-1 (59%) and IRS-2 (33%) proteins, increased (64%) relative IRS-1 Ser(307) phosphorylation, and decreased phosphorylation of Akt Ser(473) (50%) and GSK-3beta Ser(9) (43%). Moreover, enhanced (37%) phosphorylation of p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase (p38 MAPK) was observed. Selective inhibition of p38 MAPK (10 microM A304000) prevented a significant portion (29%) of the oxidant stress-induced loss of IRS-1 (but not IRS-2) protein and allowed partial recovery of the impaired insulin-stimulated glucose transport activity. These results indicate that in vitro oxidative stress in mammalian skeletal muscle leads to substantial insulin resistance of distal insulin signaling and glucose transport activity, associated with a selective loss of IRS-1 protein, in part due to a p38 MAPK-dependent mechanism.