Treatment of fetal brown adipocytes with 0.6 nM tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha for 24 h resulted in a partial impairment in the expression of fatty acid synthase, glycerol-3-phosphate dehydrogenase, and glucose transporter (GLUT)-4 messenger RNAs (mRNAs), as well as in the enhancement in the cytoplasmic lipid content in response to insulin. However, the expression of the tissue-specific gene, uncoupling protein 1, is increased by the presence of TNF-alpha. The antiadipogenic effect of TNF-alpha was accompanied by a down-regulation of CCAAT/enhancer-binding protein-alpha and beta mRNAs and up-regulation of CCAAT/enhancer-binding protein-delta, with the expression of peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-gamma remaining essentially unmodified. Moreover, TNF-alpha caused an insulin resistance on the insulin-induced glucose uptake in brown adipocytes. Pretreatment with TNF-alpha resulted in hypophosphorylation of the insulin receptor in response to insulin, without affecting the number of insulin receptors per cell or its molecular mass. However, insulin receptor substrate (IRS)-1 and IRS-2 signaling in response to insulin showed functional differences. Thus, TNF-alpha pretreatment induced a hypophosphorylation of IRS-2 but not of IRS-1. This effect leads to an impairment in the IRS-2-associated phosphatidylinositol (PI) 3-kinase activation due to a decreased association of alpha-p85 regulatory subunit of PI 3-kinase with IRS-2 but not in the IRS-1-associated PI 3-kinase activation in response to insulin. Our results indicate that TNF-alpha induced an IRS-2- but not IRS-1-mediated insulin resistance on glucose transport and lipid synthesis in fetal brown adipocytes.