A high fat diet causes resistance of skeletal muscle glucose transport to insulin and contractions. We tested the hypothesis that fat feeding causes a change in plasma membrane composition that interferes with functioning of glucose transporters and/or insulin receptors. Epitrochlearis muscles of rats fed a high (50% of calories) fat diet for 8 weeks showed ~50% decreases in insulin- and contraction-stimulated 3-O-methylglucose transport. Similar decreases in stimulated glucose transport activity occurred in muscles of wild-type mice with 4 weeks of fat feeding. In contrast, GLUT1 overexpressing muscles of transgenic mice fed a high fat diet showed no decreases in their high rates of glucose transport, providing evidence against impaired glucose transporter function. Insulin-stimulated system A amino acid transport, insulin receptor (IR) tyrosine kinase activity, and insulin-stimulated IR and IRS-1 tyrosine phosphorylation were all normal in muscles of rats fed the high fat diet for 8 weeks. However, after 30 weeks on the high fat diet, there was a significant reduction in insulin-stimulated tyrosine phosphorylation in muscle. The increases in GLUT4 at the cell surface induced by insulin or muscle contractions, measured with the 3H-labeled 2-N-4-(1- azi-2,2,2-trifluoroethyl)-benzoyl-1,3-bis-(D-mannose-4-yloxy)- 2-propylamine photolabel, were 26-36% smaller in muscles of the 8-week high fat-fed rats as compared with control rats. Our findings provide evidence that (a) impairment of muscle glucose transport by 8 weeks of high fat feeding is not due to plasma membrane composition. related reductions in glucose transporter or insulin receptor function, (b) a defect in insulin receptor signaling is a late event, not a primary cause, of the muscle insulin resistance induced by fat feeding, and (c) impaired GLUT4 translocation to the cell surface plays a major role in the decrease in stimulated glucose transport.