As obesity is a major risk factor for noninsulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, adipose tissue may generate a mediator that influences the activity of insulin on various target tissues. Recent evidence suggests that a cytokine, tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF alpha), may serve this role. This study investigates whether the expression of TNF alpha and its receptors is modulated during drug treatment to reduce insulin resistance. The effects of moderate weight loss by dietary restriction were also examined. We show here that a marked induction of TNF alpha mRNA occurs in adipose tissues from a mouse model of obesity-linked diabetes (KKAy) compared to that in nondiabetic mice (C57). Likewise, RNA transcripts encoding TNF R2 receptors (p75) were significantly increased in fat tissues of the obese diabetic animals. In muscle from these diabetic animals, RNA transcripts encoding both TNF R1 (p55) and R2 were significantly elevated, although R2 transcript abundance was less elevated than in fat. We also observed that the overexpression of mRNA for TNF alpha and both of its receptors could be at least partly normalized by treatment of the diabetic animals with the insulin-sensitizing agent pioglitazone. Treating of the obese diabetic animals by food restriction reduced the expression of mRNA for TNF R2 in muscle, but not fat. These results clearly indicate that gene expression for the TNF systems can be regulated by an insulin-sensitizing drug and reduction of body weight. Such findings support a role for this cytokine in the insulin-resistant diabetic state and show its modulation by therapies that reverse the disorder.