At between 7 and 11 h after delivery, 14 fasted calves were randomly divided into two groups to examine the effects of neonatal hypoxia on blood glucose metabolism and its mechanisms. One group was subjected to breathe a gas mixture containing 4.8-5.9% oxygen in nitrogen from a hood for 2 h. The second control group breathed atmospheric gas. Several possible causes of changes in blood glucose were assessed, including insulin, glucagon, and hydrocortisone as prereceptor factors, insulin binding as a receptor factor, and insulin receptor tyrosine kinase (IR-TK) activity as a postbinding factor. The hypoxic animals exhibited increased concentrations of blood glucose (from 5.47 +/- 1.61 mmol/L to 7.97 +/- 1.30 mmol/L), plasma insulin, and hydrocortisone, but decreased concentrations of glucagon. The percentage of specific binding activity decreased in the hypoxic group compared with the control group (12.71 +/- 1.25% versus 15.14 +/- 1.27%, p < 0.01). Several parameters of insulin receptor binding, i.e. affinity constants, high and low binding capacities, and numbers of binding sites, showed a tendency to decrease after hypoxia. Only lower affinity binding sites decreased significantly. At the postreceptor level, IR-TK activity was decreased in the hypoxic group compared with controls. It is concluded that hypoxia induced insulin resistance in these newborn calves. The results suggest that the primary mechanism for insulin resistance in the hypoxic newborn was reduced insulin receptor responsiveness with attenuated activity of IR-TK at the postreceptor level.