The insulin resistance of skeletal muscle in glucose-tolerant obese individuals is associated with reduced activity of oxidative enzymes and a disproportionate increase in activity of glycolytic enzymes. Because non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) is a disorder characterized by even more severe insulin resistance of skeletal muscle and because many individuals with NIDDM are obese, the present study was undertaken to examine whether decreased oxidative and increased glycolytic enzyme activities are also present in NIDDM. Percutaneous biopsy of vatus lateralis muscle was obtained in eight lean (L) and eight obese (O) nondiabetic subjects and in eight obese NIDDM subjects and was assayed for marker enzymes of the glycolytic [phosphofructokinase, glyceraldehyde phosphate dehydrogenase, hexokinase (HK)] and oxidative pathways [citrate synthase (CS), cytochrome-c oxidase], as well as for a glycogenolytic enzyme (glycogen phosphorylase) and a marker of anaerobic ATP resynthesis (creatine kinase). Insulin sensitivity was measured by using the euglycemic clamp technique. Activity for glycolytic enzymes (phosphofructokinase, glyceraldehye phosphate dehydrogenase, HK) was highest in subjects with subjects with NIDDM, following the order of NIDDM > O > L, whereas maximum velocity for oxidative enzymes (CS, cytochrome-c oxidase) was lowest in subjects with NIDDM. The ratio between glycolytic and oxidative enzyme activities within skeletal muscle correlated negatively with insulin sensitivity. The HK/CS ratio had the strongest correlation (r = -0.60, P < 0.01) with insulin sensitivity. In summary, an imbalance between glycolytic and oxidative enzyme capacities is present in NIDDM subjects and is more severe than in obese or lean glucose-tolerant subjects. The altered ratio between glycolytic and oxidative enzyme activities found in skeletal muscle of individuals with NIDDM suggests that a dysregulation between mitochondrial oxidative capacity and capacity for glycolysis is an important component of the expression of insulin resistance.