In the present study we measured PC-1 content, tumour necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha gene expression, and insulin stimulation of insulin receptor tyrosine-kinase activity in adipose tissue from non-obese, non-diabetic subjects. These parameters were correlated with in vivo insulin action as measured by the intravenous insulin tolerance test (Kitt values). PC-1 content was negatively correlated with Kitt values (r = -0.5, p = 0.04) and positively with plasma insulin levels both fasting (r = 0.58, p = 0.009) and after 120 min during oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) (r = 0.67, p = 0.002). Moreover, adipose tissue PC-1 content was higher in relatively insulin-resistant subjects (Kitt values lower than 6) than in relatively insulin-sensitive subjects (Kitt values higher than 6) (525 +/- 49 ng/mg protein vs 336 +/- 45, respectively, p = 0.012). Adipose tissue insulin receptor tyrosine-kinase activity in response to insulin was significantly lower at all insulin concentrations tested (p = 0.017, by two-way analysis of variance test) in insulin-resistant than in insulin-sensitive subjects (Kitt values lower or higher than 6, respectively). In contrast to PC-1, no significant correlation was observed between adipose tissue TNF-alpha mRNA content and Kitt values, and plasma insulin levels, both fasting and at after 120 min during OGTT. Also, no difference was observed in TNF-alpha mRNA content between subjects with Kitt values higher or lower than 6. These studies in adipose tissue, together with our previous studies in skeletal muscle raise the possibility that PC-1, by regulating insulin receptor function, may play a role in the degree of insulin sensitivity in non-obese, non-diabetic subjects.