To assess the possible effects of lipid metabolism on insulin-mediated glucose disposal, 18 nondiabetic Pima Indian women (age 18-35 yr) were studied using 1-14C-palmitate infusion to measure free fatty acid turnover rate followed by a euglycemic clamp (clamp) to measure in vivo insulin-mediated glucose disposal (M). Indirect calorimetry was performed in the basal state and during the clamp. This was used to assess glucose oxidation rate, lipid oxidation rate, and to calculate nonoxidative glucose disposal (storage). Basal and clamp lipid oxidation rate correlated with basal plasma free fatty acid concentration (r = 0.81, P less than or equal to 0.0001, r = 0.67, P less than 0.003, respectively). The fall in lipid oxidation was highly correlated with the increase in glucose oxidation during the insulin infusion (r = 0.96, P less than or equal to 0.0001). The clamp lipid oxidation rate negatively correlated with the glucose oxidation rate (r = -0.85, P less than 0.0001) and with the M value (r = -0.60, P less than 0.01) but was not correlated with the clamp glucose storage (r = -0.2, P = 0.4). On the other hand, glucose storage appeared to make a greater contribution to the difference in M value between the upper and lower extremes of M than did glucose oxidation, as evidenced by an increase in glucose storage of 0.59 mg/kg fat-free mass times minute per 1 mg/kg fat-free mass times minute increase in glucose disposal. The M value was negatively correlated with obesity as measured by percent body fat (r = -0.64, P less than 0.004), but neither basal free fatty acid concentration, basal free fatty acid turnover, basal lipid oxidation, nor clamp lipid oxidation correlated with percent body fat. We conclude that an interaction of lipid and glucose metabolism in a glucose fatty acid cycle, as proposed by Randle et al. (1), may be operative in the regulation of glucose oxidation in man. The disposal of glucose however has two components. The storage component does not appear to be associated with lipid oxidation in the way that the oxidative component is and may be regulated by a different mechanism. Since the results show that the glucose storage component plays a significant role in distinguishing between those with low and high M values, we suggest that the glucose fatty acid cycle can, at best, only partially explain impaired in vivo insulin-mediated glucose disposal. Furthermore, the data suggest that the impact of obesity on in vivo insulin resistance appears to be mediated by factors other than changes in lipid availability or metabolism.