Visceral obesity is frequently associated with muscle insulin resistance. Rats fed a high-fat diet rapidly develop obesity and insulin resistance. Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) has been reported to protect against the development of obesity. This study tested the hypothesis that DHEA protects against the increase in visceral fat and the development of muscle insulin resistance induced by a high-fat diet in rats. Feeding rats a diet providing 50% of the energy as fat for 4 wk resulted in a twofold greater visceral fat mass and a 50% lower rate of maximally insulin-stimulated muscle 2-deoxyglucose (2-DG) uptake compared with controls. Rats fed the high-fat diet plus 0.3% DHEA were largely protected against the increase in visceral fat (+ 11.3 g in high fat vs. + 2.9 g in high fat plus DHEA, compared with controls) and against the decrease in insulin-stimulated muscle 2-DG uptake (0.94 +/- 0.15 mumol.ml-1.20 min-1, controls; 0.46 +/- 0.06 mumol.ml-1.20 min-1, high-fat diet; 0.78 +/- 0.07 mumol.ml-1.20 min-1, high fat + DHEA). DHEA did not affect food intake. These results show that DHEA has a protective effect against accumulation of visceral fat and development of muscle insulin resistance in rats fed a high-fat diet.