[1-(14)C]glucose oxidation to CO(2) and conversion into glyceride by adipose tissue from nonobese and obese subjects has been studied in vitro in the presence of varying medium glucose and insulin concentrations as functions of adipose cell size, the composition of the diet, and antecedent weight gain or loss. Increasing medium glucose concentrations enhance the incorporation of glucose carbons by human adipose tissue into CO(2) and glyceride-glycerol. Insulin further stimulates the conversion of glucose carbons into CO(2), but not into glyceride-glycerol. Incorporation of [1-(14)C]glucose into glyceride-fatty acids by these tissues could not be demonstrated under any of the conditions tested. Both adipose cell size and dietary composition influence the in vitro metabolism of glucose in, and the response to insulin by, human adipose tissue. During periods of ingestion of weight-maintenance isocaloric diets of similar carbohydrate, fat, and protein composition, increasing adipose cell size is associated with (a) unchanging rates of glucose oxidation and increasing rates of glucose carbon incorporation into glyceride-glycerol in the absence of insulin, but (b) decreasing stimulation of glucose oxidation by insulin. On the other hand, when cell size is kept constant, increasing dietary carbohydrate intake is associated with an increased basal rate of glucose metabolism and response to insulin by both small and large adipose cells. Thus, the rate of glucose oxidation and the magnitude of the insulin response of large adipose cells from individuals ingesting a high carbohydrate diet may be similar to or greater than that in smaller cells from individuals ingesting an isocaloric lower carbohydrate diet.The alterations in basal glucose metabolism and insulin response observed in adipose tissue from patients with spontaneous obesity are reproduced by weight gain induced experimentally in nonobese volunteers; these metabolic changes are reversible with weight loss. The relationships among adipose cell size, dietary composition, and the metabolism of adipose tissue are similar in spontaneous and in experimental obesity.