The pyruvate dehydrogenase (PDH) complex undergoes reversible phosphorylation catalyzed by a PDH kinase (inactivating) and a PDH phosphatase (activating). In skeletal muscle, a decreased proportion of active PDH (PDHa) complex limits glucose oxidation in insulin-deficient states. The time-course for reactivation of the PDH complex by insulin in skeletal muscle of diabetic rats is important to understanding the potential mode of the action of insulin in regulating glucose metabolism. A single injection of insulin (1 U/kg) completely reversed the effects of alloxan-diabetes on PDHa activity within 1 hour. The normalization of the effects of diabetes on PDHa activity by insulin was maintained for a minimum of 6 hours. The increase in PDHa activity occurred before an insulin-induced decrease in plasma free fatty acids levels, demonstrating a dissociation between the antilipolytic effects of insulin and its ability to activate the PDH complex. PDH kinase activity was not normalized to control values following a single injection of insulin. Therefore, acute (1 to 6 hours) insulin-mediated activation of the PDH complex does not result from a decrease in PDH kinase activity. However, longer-term insulin therapy (1 U/kg body weight; twice daily) restored both PDHa and PDH kinase activities. The results are consistent with the hypothesis that activation of the PDH complex immediately following insulin administration is not mediated by a decreased PDH kinase activity. However, with daily insulin therapy in diabetes, activation of the PDH complex results from decreased PDH kinase activity.