Plasma membranes and light microsomes were isolated from fused L6 muscle cells. Pre-treatment of cells with insulin did not affect marker enzyme or protein distribution in isolated membranes. The number of glucose transporters in the isolated membranes was calculated from the D-glucose-protectable binding of [3H]cytochalasin B. Glucose transporter number was higher in plasma membranes and lower in intracellular membranes derived from insulin-treated cells than in the corresponding fractions from untreated cells. The net increase in glucose transporters in plasma membranes was identical to the net decrease in glucose transporters in light microsomes (2 pmol/1.23 x 10(8) cells). The fold increase in glucose transporter number/mg protein in plasma membranes (2-fold) was similar to the fold increase in glucose transport caused by insulin. This suggests that recruitment of glucose transporters from intracellular membranes to the plasma membrane is the major mechanism of stimulation of hexose transport in L6 muscle cells. This is the first report of isolation of the two insulin-sensitive membrane elements from a cell line, and the results indicate that, in contrast to rat adipocytes, there is not change in the intrinsic activity of the transporters in response to insulin.