The actions of insulin, vanadate (V) and hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) on IGF-II binding and insulin receptor tyrosine kinase activity were studied in rat adipocytes. Incubating adipocytes with a combination of V plus H2O2 resulted in a potent synergistic effect on both the increase in IGF-II binding and the activation of the insulin receptor kinase. Catalase, which removes H2O2, abolished this synergism if added at the time of mixing of V plus H2O2 but not if added 10 min. later, suggesting that the formation of peroxide(s) of vanadate generated a potent insulin mimicker. The data support a critical role for the insulin receptor kinase in insulin action. The novel insulin-mimetic compound, a presumed peroxide of vanadate, could prove useful for investigating insulin action and may be valuable for treating insulin resistance.