Troglitazone (CS-045) is one of the thiazolidinediones that activate the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma (PPARgamma), which is expressed primarily in adipose tissues. To elucidate the mechanism by which troglitazone relieves insulin resistance in vivo, we studied its effects on the white adipose tissues of an obese animal model (obese Zucker rat). Administration of troglitazone for 15 d normalized mild hyperglycemia and marked hyperinsulinemia in these rats. Plasma triglyceride level was decreased by troglitazone in both obese and lean rats. Troglitazone did not change the total weight of white adipose tissues but increased the number of small adipocytes (< 2,500 micron2) approximately fourfold in both retroperitoneal and subcutaneous adipose tissues of obese rats. It also decreased the number of large adipocytes (> 5,000 micron2) by approximately 50%. In fact, the percentage of apoptotic nuclei was approximately 2.5-fold higher in the troglitazone-treated retroperitoneal white adipose tissue than control. Concomitantly, troglitazone normalized the expression levels of TNF-alpha which were elevated by 2- and 1.4-fold in the retroperitoneal and mesenteric white adipose tissues of the obese rats, respectively. Troglitazone also caused a dramatic decrease in the expression levels of leptin, which were increased by 4-10-fold in the white adipose tissues of obese rats. These results suggest that the primary action of troglitazone may be to increase the number of small adipocytes in white adipose tissues, presumably via PPARgamma. The increased number of small adipocytes and the decreased number of large adipocytes in white adipose tissues of troglitazone-treated obese rats appear to be an important mechanism by which increased expression levels of TNF-alpha and higher levels of plasma lipids are normalized, leading to alleviation of insulin resistance.