Glucocorticoids and insulin effect long-term reciprocal changes in food intake and body weight. We tested the interactions of corticosterone and insulin on caloric efficiency, white adipose tissue (WAT) stores, and brown adipose tissue (BAT). Two experiments were performed: 1) adrenalectomized rats were treated with corticosterone with or without streptozotocin-induced diabetes and 2) adrenalectomized, corticosterone-treated, diabetic rats were treated with insulin. By 4-5 days later, > or = 50% of the variance in caloric efficiency, plasma triglycerides, and WAT stores was explained by regression of these variables on corticosterone (catabolic) and insulin (anabolic). When the ratio of the hormones was normal, but concentrations high, overall gain of energy stores decreased and energy was redistributed to fat. Both hormones were anabolic on BAT lipid storage; the hormones played a complex role in the regulation of uncoupling protein (UCP) in BAT. Although corticosterone inhibited and insulin stimulated UCP, these effects were only evident in diabetics and with normoglycemia, respectively. For BAT variables, < or = 50% of the variance was explained by regression on corticosterone and insulin, suggesting that the effects of these hormones are mediated through an intermediate such as sympathetic nervous system input to BAT.