With metabolically active, saponin-permeabilized adipocytes, in situ pathway metabolism, which was distal to glucose transport, was examined in acute streptozocin-induced diabetic (STZ-D) rats. Metabolic reactions were initiated with selectively radiolabeled glucose-6-phosphate (G6P), an otherwise inert substrate with intact cells. Thus, the membrane pores permitted a direct comparison of cellular flux between control and STZ-D adipocytes at identical initial substrate concentrations. Three metabolic pathways were studied: 1) proximal glycolysis through the triosephosphates ([3-3H]G6P to 3H2O), 2) glycolysis-Krebs ([6-14C]G6P) oxidation, and 3) lipogenesis ([6-14C]G6P incorporation into triglyceride). The extent of membrane porosity was assessed by both propidium iodide staining and lactate dehydrogenase leakage to assure that porosity was comparable between the cell groups. Porous adipocytes from STZ-D rats had markedly attenuated rates of G6P metabolism compared with controls. At enzyme-saturating concentrations of G6P (4 mM), this deficit ranged from 44% for glycolysis-Krebs oxidation to 88% for lipogenesis. The reduction in glycolysis-Krebs oxidation was also evident between 0.5 and 6 mM G6P. These porous-cell data were compared with parallel studies of glucose metabolism and clearance in intact adipocytes. Finally, several glycolytic enzymes and acetyl-CoA carboxylase were measured in cell-free (sonicated) extracts with traditional in vitro methods under V(max) conditions. Overall, the in situ porous-cell flux measurements uncovered larger deficits in posttransport cellular metabolism than were apparent in the cell-free, in vitro assays. We conclude that, in actively metabolizing porous rat adipocytes, there exists a striking and unequivocal transport-independent defect in intermediary metabolism after acute STZ-D.