Diabetes alters cardiac substrate metabolism. The cardiac phenotype in insulin-resistant states has not been comprehensively characterized. The goal of these studies was to determine whether the hearts of leptin-deficient 8-week-old ob/ob mice were able to modulate cardiac substrate utilization in response to insulin or to changes in fatty acid delivery. Ob/ob mice were insulin resistant and glucose intolerant. Insulin signal transduction and insulin-stimulated glucose uptake were markedly impaired in ob/ob cardiomyocytes. Insulin-stimulated rates of glycolysis and glucose oxidation were 1.5- and 1.8-fold higher in wild-type hearts, respectively, versus ob/ob, and glucose metabolism in ob/ob hearts was unresponsive to insulin. Increasing concentrations of palmitate from 0.4 mmol/l (low) to 1.2 mmol/l (high) led to a decline in glucose oxidation in wild-type hearts, whereas glucose oxidation remained depressed and did not change in ob/ob mouse hearts. In contrast, fatty acid utilization in ob/ob hearts was 1.5- to 2-fold greater in the absence or presence of 1 nmol/l insulin and rose with increasing palmitate concentrations. Moreover, the ability of insulin to reduce palmitate oxidation rates was blunted in the hearts of ob/ob mice. Under low-palmitate and insulin-free conditions, cardiac performance was significantly greater in wild-type hearts. However, in the presence of high palmitate and 1 nmol/l insulin, cardiac performance in ob/ob mouse hearts was relatively preserved, whereas function in wild-type mouse hearts declined substantially. Under all perfusion conditions, myocardial oxygen consumption was higher in ob/ob hearts, ranging from 30% higher in low-palmitate conditions to greater than twofold higher under high-palmitate conditions. These data indicate that although the hearts of glucose-intolerant ob/ob mice are capable of maintaining their function under conditions of increased fatty acid supply and hyperinsulinemia, they are insulin-resistant, metabolically inefficient, and unable to modulate substrate utilization in response to changes in insulin and fatty acid supply.