Farnesylation of p21Ras by farnesyltransferase (FTase) is obligatory for anchoring p21Ras to the plasma membrane, where it can be activated by growth factors. Insulin significantly stimulates the phosphorylation of the alpha-subunit of FTase (4-fold) and the enzymatic activity of FTase in 3T3-L1 fibroblasts and adipocytes. FTase activity was assessed by the amount of [3H] mevalonate (a precursor of farnesyl) incorporated into p21Ras in vivo and by quantitating the amount of farnesylated p21Ras before and after insulin administration. Insulin-stimulated phosphorylation of the alpha-subunit of FTase in 3T3-L1 fibroblasts and adipocytes was blocked by the mitogen-activated protein/extracellular-signal regulated kinase-kinase inhibitor, PD98059, but not by wortmannin or bisindolylmaleimide. Additionally, PD98059 blocked insulin-stimulated [3H]mevalonic incorporation and farnesylation of unprocessed p21Ras in both cell lines. Furthermore, expression of the dominant negative mutant of p21Ras precluded insulin-stimulated phosphorylation of the FTase alpha-subunit and activation of its enzymatic activity. In contrast, 3T3-L1 fibroblasts, expressing the constitutively active Raf-1, exhibited enhanced phosphorylation of the FTase alpha-subunit. It seems that insulin's effect on the phosphorylation and activation of FTase in both fibroblasts and adipocytes is mediated via the Ras pathway, resulting in a positive feedback augmentation of the cellular pool of farnesylated p21Ras.