Nitric oxide activates guanylate cyclase to form cGMP, comprising a signalling system that is believed to be a distinct mechanism for increasing glucose transport and metabolism in skeletal muscle. The effects of a selective cGMP phosphodiesterase inhibitor, zaprinast, on basal glucose utilization was investigated in incubated rat soleus muscle preparations isolated from both insulin-sensitive (lean Zucker; Fa/?) and insulin-resistant (obese Zucker; fa/fa) rats. Zaprinast at 27 μM significantly increased cGMP levels in incubated soleus muscle isolated from lean, but not obese, Zucker rats. Muscles were incubated with 14C-labelled glucose and various concentrations of zaprinast (3, 27 and 243 μM). Zaprinast (at 27 and 243 μM) significantly increased rates of net and 14C-labelled lactate release and of glycogen synthesis in lean Zucker rat soleus muscle; glucose oxidation was also increased by 27 μM zaprinast. In addition, regardless of concentration, the phosphodiesterase inhibitor failed to increase any aspect of 14C-labelled glucose utilization in soleus muscles isolated from obese Zucker rats. The maximal activity of nitric oxide synthase (NOS) was significantly decreased in insulin-resistant obese Zucker muscles. Thus the lack of effect of zaprinast in insulin-resistant skeletal muscle is consistent with decreased NOS activity. To test whether there is a defect in insulin-resistant skeletal muscle for endogenous activation of guanylate cyclase, soleus muscles were isolated from both insulin-sensitive and insulin-resistant Zucker rats and incubated with various concentrations of the NO donor sodium nitroprusside (SNP; 0.1, 1, 5 and 15 mM). SNP significantly increased rates of net and 14C-labelled lactate release, as well as glucose oxidation in muscles isolated from both insulin-sensitive and insulin-resistant rats. A decreased response to SNP was observed in the dose-dependent generation of cGMP within isolated soleus muscles from insulin-resistant rats. A possible link between impaired NO/cGMP signalling and abnormal glucose utilization by skeletal muscle is discussed.