Insulin deficiency as seen in insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus causes an activation of lipolysis in adipose tissue that results in hydrolysis of stored triglycerides and release of large amounts of fatty acids into the plasma, leading to diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). Hormone-sensitive lipase (HSL) is thought to be the rate-limiting enzyme of lipolysis in adipose tissue. This study was designed to examine the effects of insulin deficiency on the regulation of HSL in isolated adipocytes. Insulin deficiency was induced by a single dose of streptozotocin. After 8 days, some animals were treated with insulin, and all animals were killed 10 days after induction of insulin deficiency. Compared with levels in control rats, 10 days of insulin deficiency increased HSL activity twofold (P < .05), as assayed for neutral cholesterol esterase activity, and insulin treatment returned HSL activity to normal. HSL protein was increased twofold (P < .05) in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats, as estimated by immunoblotting, but remained elevated after insulin treatment. Levels of HSL mRNA assessed by Northern blot analysis also increased twofold (P < .01) in adipose cells isolated from streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats, and remained elevated after insulin treatment. In conclusion, our studies suggest that 10 days of insulin deficiency increases HSL expression via pretranslational mechanisms and short-term insulin treatment returns HSL activity to normal via posttranslational mechanisms in adipose tissue.