The effect of palmitic acid on basal and insulin-stimulated incorporation of glucose into rat adipocytes was studied. Palmitic acid (2.40 mM) stimulated basal as well as insulin-stimulated glucose incorporation in rat adipocytes three and twofold, respectively. Similar degrees of stimulation of basal glucose oxidation by palmitate were also observed. The ability of palmitic acid to stimulate glucose uptake was additive with respect to the stimulation induced by insulin and was proportional to the palmitic acid concentration between 0.15 mM and 2.40 mM. Stimulation of glucose incorporation by palmitic acid was inhibited by preincubating the cells with quin2-AM, which accumulates intracellularly yielding the trapped chelator form. quin2, which binds intracellular Ca2+.The concentration of quin2-AM required for half-maximal inhibition of palmitic acid stimulated glucose incorporation was 3.8 +/- 1.2 microM (mean +/- SEM). The inhibition of palmitic acid-stimulated glucose incorporation by quin2-AM (10 microM) was overcome by incubating cells with the Ca2+ ionophore, A23187, in the presence of extracellular Ca2+ (2.6 mM). Chelation of extracellular Ca2+ with EGTA did not significantly affect the magnitude of palmitic acid-stimulated glucose incorporation. Dantrolene (12.5-100 microM) failed to affect basal or palmitic acid-stimulated glucose incorporation. These findings suggest that palmitic acid stimulates incorporation of glucose in the adipocyte by a mechanism dependent upon intracellular but not extracellular Ca2+.