We examined the hypothesis that insulin stimulation of cellular glucose transport may involve a protein synthesis-dependent regulation of glucose transporter (GTer) activity independent of GTer translocation to the cell surface. Rat adipocytes were isolated, incubated with or without 10 micrograms/ml (36 microM) cycloheximide (CHX) for 60 min, and then with or without 7 nM insulin for 30 min. Glucose transport rates were assessed in intact cells, and both glucose transport rates and GTer levels were assessed in subcellular fractions of membrane vesicles before and after reconstitution into artificial liposomes. GTer functional and intrinsic activities were calculated as the ratio between these transport rates and GTer levels in native and reconstituted membranes, respectively. Insulin increased functional activity by 340% in native plasma membrane (PM) vesicles and intrinsic activity by 60% in reconstituted membranes (from 54 +/- 4 to 86 +/- 4 molecules transported per GTer/sec, P < 0.02). CHX preincubation of cells did not interfere with the insulin effect to stimulate glucose transport rate in either intact cells or in native PMs; it did, however, reduce PM GTer levels by 27-30%, but not affecting those in the intracellular pool. However, CHX additively increased the insulin-stimulated intrinsic activity of PM GTers by 67%. Relative reconstitution efficiencies, assessed by immunoblotting both native and reconstituted membranes against specific antibodies, were similar for GLUT 1 and GLUT 4. Although insulin did not alter this efficiency, CHX slightly decreased it for GLUT 4. Our data suggest that insulin stimulation of glucose transport may involve, as part of its mechanism, modulation of the GTer intrinsic activity. We further hypothesize that CHX effects on increasing this activity state of GTer may involve as yet unknown protein synthesis-dependent regulator(s).