Overexpression of surrogate receptors [epidermal growth factor (EGF) receptor (EGFR) and platelet-derived growth factor receptor] in adipocytes has demonstrated that multiple signaling pathways may lead to GLUT4-mediated glucose uptake. These implicated pathways function independently of IRS-1 phosphorylation and PI3-kinase activation. In addition, we previously demonstrated that EGFR tyrosyl autophosphorylation is required to stimulate GLUT4-mediated glucose transport in 3T3-L1 adipocytes. This observation suggests that signaling molecules that are dependent on EGFR autophosphorylation, such as phospholipase C (PLC), may lie in the signaling pathway to glucose transport. As PLC has been implicated in glucose transport by several clinical and basic mechanistic studies, we investigated whether EGFR signaling may promote glucose transport via modulation of PLC activity. Activation of EGFR overexpressing 3T3-L1 adipocytes leads to a 3.4 +/- 1.2-fold stimulation of PLC activity over basal levels vs. only 1.06 +/- 0.01-fold stimulation by insulin. Pharmacological inhibition of PLC by 50 microM U73122 reduced phosphoinositide accumulation by 79.2 +/- 16.9% and resulted in a concomitant 56.0 +/- 12.7% decrease in EGF-induced glucose transport. This inhibition of glucose transport by U73122 was specific, because the inactive congener, U73343, failed to block EGF-induced glucose transport. Despite the low levels of insulin-induced PLC activity, insulin-stimulated glucose transport activity was similarly inhibited by U73122 (55.9 +/- 13.1% inhibition). Inhibition of PLC activation did not impair either EGF- or insulin-induced activation of glycogen synthase or incorporation of glucose into lipid, supporting the hypothesis that both EGF- and insulin-induced glucose disposal can be independent of GLUT4-mediated glucose transport. The diminution of glucose transport secondary to inhibition of PLC activity was reflected by a decrease in GLUT4 translocation to the plasma membrane upon either EGF or insulin stimulation. These results are consistent with either a permissive or an active role for PLC activity in the translocation of GLUT4 to the plasma membrane.