We have previously shown that the incubation of normal rat adipose tissue with sera from nondialyzed, nondiabetic uremic patients reduces the transport and metabolism of glucose, in the absence and presence of insulin. In this study insulin-stimulated glucose metabolism by normal rat adipocytes was used as a bioassay to identify the resistance activity, assess the effect of chemical modification on it, and the clinical states associated with its production. The resistance activity was trypsin-labile and had an apparent isoelectric point between 6 and 7, but was not retained by either protein A or concanavalin A columns. The insulin resistance activity was decreased by coincubation with the protein synthesis inhibitor, cycloheximide. Purification to greater than 200,000-fold was attained by heating (100 degrees C) uremic serum, subjecting the supernatant to Sephadex G-25 chromatography and subsequent adsorption to DEAE at pH 7.8 and elution at pH 6.5. The partially purified resistance activity was retained within dialysis tubing of 1,000-mol wt cutoff but not within 2,000-mol wt cutoff. Hemodialysis of patients over 1 wk to 18 mo reduced significantly the amount of resistance activity in their sera. The resistance activity, present in most uremic patients, was not found in the sera of individuals with normal renal function but who were either obese, fasted, elderly or had type II diabetes mellitus. Thus, a circulating small molecular weight peptide, unique to uremia, induced insulin resistance by a protein synthesis-dependent mechanism.