It was the aim of this study to determine whether FFA inhibit insulin-stimulated whole body glucose uptake and utilization in patients with non-insulin-dependent diabetes. We performed five types of isoglycemic (approximately 11mM) clamps: (a) with insulin; (b) with insulin plus fat/heparin; (c) with insulin plus glycerol; (d) with saline; (e) with saline plus fat/heparin and two types of euglycemic (approximately 5mM) clamps: (a) with insulin; (b) with insulin plus fat/heparin. During these studies, we determined rates of glucose uptake, glycolysis (both with 3[3H] glucose), glycogen synthesis (determined as glucose uptake minus glycolysis), carbohydrate oxidation (by indirect calorimetry) and nonoxidative glycolysis (determined as glycolysis minus carbohydrate oxidation). Fat/heparin infusion did not affect basal glucose uptake, but inhibited total stimulated (insulin stimulated plus basal) glucose uptake by 40-50% in isoglycemic and in euglycemic patients at plasma FFA concentration of approximately 950 and approximately 550 microM, respectively. In isoglycemic patients, the 40-50% inhibition of total stimulated glucose uptake was due to near complete inhibition of the insulin-stimulated part of glucose uptake. Proportional inhibition of glucose uptake, glycogen synthesis, and glycolysis suggested a major FFA-mediated defect involving glucose transport and/or phosphorylation. In summary, fat produced proportional inhibitions of insulin-stimulated glucose uptake and of intracellular glucose utilization. We conclude, that physiologically elevated levels of FFa could potentially be responsible for a large part of the peripheral insulin resistance in patients with non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus.