In the present study we have investigated the contribution of the insulin receptor substrate proteins (IRS-1 and IRS-2) to the insulin/insulin like growth factor I (IGF-I)-signaling pathways in fetal rat brown adipocytes, a model that expresses both insulin and IGF-I receptors. Insulin/IGF-I rapidly stimulated IRS-1 and IRS-2 tyrosine phosphorylation, their association with p85alpha, and IRS-1- and IRS-2-associated phosphatidylinositol (PI) 3-kinase activation to the same extent, the effect of insulin being stronger than the effect of IGF-I at the same physiological dose (10 nM). Furthermore, insulin/IGF-I stimulated IRS-1-associated Grb-2 phosphorylation. However, IRS-2-associated Grb-2 phosphorylation was barely detected. Pull-down experiments with glutathione-S-transferase-fusion proteins containing SH2-domains of p85alpha revealed a strong association between IRS-1 and IRS-2 with p85alpha in response to insulin/IGF-I, the insulin effect being stronger than IGF-I. However, the Grb-2-SH2 domain showed functional differences. While a strong association between IRS-1/Grb-2 was found, IRS-2/Grb-2 association was virtually absent in response to insulin/IGF-I, as also demonstrated in competition studies with a phosphopeptide containing the phosphotyrosine 895 residue within the putative Grb-2-binding domain. Finally, insulin/IGF-I stimulated tyrosine phosphorylation of the three SHC proteins (46, 52, and 66 kDa). Moreover, insulin/IGF-I markedly increased the amount of Grb-2-associated SHC proteins by the same extent. Our results suggest that both IRS-1 and IRS-2 are required for phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase activation that leads to adipogenic and thermogenic differentiation of fetal brown adipose tissue; meanwhile, IRS-1 and SHC, but not IRS-2, associate with Grb-2 leading to the ras-mitogen-activated protein kinase-signaling pathway required for fetal brown adipocyte proliferation.