Insulin resistance and impaired insulin secretion can be involved in the development of non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM), but their relative importance or temporal relationship are poorly understood. To elucidate this issue, we studied 51 subjects with borderline glucose intolerance (BGI) and 18 normal glucose tolerant subjects (NGT) according to the Japan Diabetes Society criteria. The glucose infusion rate (GIR, mg/kg/min), an index of whole body insulin resistance (IR), was measured by the euglycemic (80 mg/dl) hyperinsulinemic clamp technique (insulin infusion rate 1.12 mU/kg/min). Insulinogenic index (delta IRI/delta BS at 30 min) and the insulin area under the curve during a 75-g oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) were estimated. In the BGI subjects, the GIR values showed marked variation ranging from 2.24 to 10.44 mg/kg/min (5.54 +/- 0.31, mean +/- S.E.M.). The GIR values were lower in obese BGI subjects compared with non-obese BGI and NGT subjects, and the insulin area was markedly higher in BGI subjects with increased insulin resistance. There was a significant negative correlation between the GIR values and the insulin area or delta IRI/delta BS (30') ratio in the subjects with BGI either in the whole group or solely in the non-obese group. We conclude that the increased insulin secretion compensates for the peripheral insulin resistance of subjects with slightly deteriorated glucose tolerance, implying that insulin resistance plays an important role in the pathogenesis of NIDDM in some fraction of Japanese population.