The insulin resistance of 4 nonobese and 8 obese patients with polycystic ovaries, hirsutism and benign acanthosis nigricans, and of 6 'obese normal' apart from obesity and 10 normal female subjects was evaluated by means of an intravenous insulin tolerance test and by measuring basal and insulin responses to an oral glucose load. The patients with polycystic ovaries, hirsutism and acanthosis had a decreased hypoglycemic response to exogenous insulin. The subjects with polycystic ovaries presented a significantly greater mean glucose response area for the same or greater mean insulin response area than the obese or nonobese normal subjects. The insulin resistance in the patient with polycystic ovaries, hirsutism and acanthosis nigricans could not be exclusively ascribed to a reduced receptor number, but also appeared to be due to a simultaneous postbinding defect probably related to the high insulin levels in patients with polycystic ovaries be they obese or not. The elevated plasma androgens and the presence of acanthosis found in these patients are likely also related to the hyperinsulinemia. To evaluate the influence of obesity, obese and nonobese patients with acanthosis nigricans and polycystic ovaries were compared. Higher insulin levels were found in the thin subjects, which could explain their greater insulin resistance and more severe hyperandrogenism. The comparison between obese patients with and those without acanthosis nigricans and polycystic ovaries suggested that, despite similar insulin levels, the greater known duration of obesity (probably also of the hyperinsulinemia) of the former was a possible explanation for their more intense insulin resistance and higher testosterone levels.