Thiazolidinedione derivatives are a novel class of insulin-sensitizing agents that have demonstrated effective antidiabetic activity in vivo. Here, the effects of the potent thiazolidinedione derivative, AD-5075, on the rate-limiting enzyme of glycogen synthesis, glycogen synthase, were investigated in cultured rat adipose tissue. Short term preincubation of adipose tissue with AD-5075 potentiated acute insulin stimulation of I-form glycogen synthase activity in a concentration-dependent (EC50 approximately, 61nM) and time-dependent (t1/2 approximately, 2.3 h) manner. The thiazolidinedione derivative increased the responsiveness of I-form glycogen synthase activity to insulin stimulation at both maximal and submaximal insulin concentrations. In contrast, it had no effect on total glycogen synthase activity. Isoproterenol inhibited acute insulin activation of I-form glycogen synthase activity in a dose-dependent manner; maximal inhibition was attained at a concentration of 3 nM. AD-5075 antagonized isoproterenol inhibition of insulin's action. The concentration of glycogenolytic agent required to attain maximal inhibition was increased an order of magnitude in tissue treated with the antidiabetic agent. Short term preincubation of adipose tissue under hyperglycemic conditions (15 or 25 mM glucose) decreased insulin-stimulated I-form glycogen synthase activity. Concurrent treatment of the tissue with AD-5075 abrogated this glucose toxicity-induced inhibition of insulin action. Wortmannin, an inhibitor of phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase, blocked insulin activation of glycogen synthase in a dose-dependent manner. Half-maximal inhibition was observed at approximately 0.3 microM, and maximal inhibition occurred at 1.0 microM. AD-5075 did not antagonize wortmannin's inhibitory action. These results indicate that thiazolidinediones can act directly on adipose tissues to augment an important metabolic effect of insulin and counteract the inhibitory effects of catecholamines or hyperglycemia. As insulin stimulation of glycogen synthase remains wortmannin inhibitable in the presence of AD-5075, the effects of thiazolidinediones on insulin signal transduction may be phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase-dependent.