Salts of the trace element vanadium, such as sodium orthovanadate and vanadyl sulfate (VS), exhibit a myriad of insulin-like effects, including stimulation of glycogen synthesis and improvement of glucose homeostasis in type I and type II animal models of diabetes mellitus. However, the cellular mechanism by which these effects are mediated remains poorly characterized. We have shown earlier that different vanadium salts stimulate the MAP kinase pathway and ribosomal-S-6-kinase (p70s6k) in chinese hamster ovary cells overexpressing human insulin receptor (CHO-HIR cells) [Pandey, S. K., Chiasson, J.-L., and Srivastava, A. K. (1995) Mol. Cell. Biochem. 153, 69-78]. In the present studies, we have investigated if similar to insulin, VS also activates phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3-k) activity, and whether VS-induced activation of the PI3-k, MAP kinase, and p70s6k pathways contributes to glycogen synthesis. Treatment of CHO-HIR cells with VS resulted in increased glycogen synthesis and PI3-k activity which were blocked by pretreatment of the cells with wortmannin and LY294002, two specific inhibitors of PI3-k. On the other hand, PD98059 and rapamycin, specific inhibitors of the MAP kinase pathway and p70s6k, respectively, were unable to inhibit VS-stimulated glycogen synthesis. Moreover, VS-stimulated glycogen synthesis and PI3-k were observed without any change in the tyrosine phosphorylation of insulin receptor (IR) beta-subunit but were associated with increased tyrosine phosphorylation of insulin receptor substrate-1 (IRS-1). In addition, PI3-k activation was detected in IRS-1 immunoprecipitates from VS-stimulated cells, indicating that tyrosine-phosphorylated IRS-1 was able to interact and thereby activate PI3-k in response to VS. Taken together, these results provide evidence that tyrosine phosphorylation of IRS-1 and activation of PI3-k play a key role in mediating the insulinomimetic effect of VS on glycogen synthesis independent of IR-tyrosine phosphorylation.