Hyperinsulinemia is a common finding in hyperandrogenic women, during pregnancy, and in women using oral contraceptives. To test whether sex hormone treatment can induce insulin resistance in healthy subjects, we studied the effects of administration of testosterone to 13 female to male and of ethinyl estradiol to 18 male to female transsexuals. Utilization and production of glucose and levels of sex steroids were measured during a three-step hyperinsulinemic-euglycemic clamp before and after 4 months of hormone administration. Females were treated with im injections of testosterone esters (250 mg/2 weeks); males were treated with ethinyl estradiol alone (0.1 mg/day, orally) or a combination of ethinyl estradiol and cyproterone acetate (100 mg/day, orally). Similar insulin levels were achieved at each of the three steps of the clamp studies before and during hormone administration. During step 1 of each clamp, with insulin levels in the physiological range, glucose utilization decreased from 3.5 +/- 1.2 to 2.6 +/- 0.9 mmol/kg lean body mass (LBM).h in women treated with testosterone esters (P < 0.001) and from 3.2 +/- 0.7 to 2.5 +/- 0.5 mmol/kg lean body mass.h in men treated with ethinyl estradiol (P < 0.001). The effects of sex steroids during steps 2 and 3 of the clamp at higher (supraphysiological) insulin levels were less clear. Endogenous glucose production (measured by isotope dilution with tritiated glucose) was not affected by hormone administration, indicating that the observed changes in glucose requirement were determined by a diminished peripheral glucose uptake. We conclude that sex hormone administration, i.e. testosterone treatment in females and ethinyl estradiol treatment in males, can induce insulin resistance in healthy subjects.