A semiquantitative method using immunocytochemistry on ultrathin cryosections and the protein A-gold technique was performed to study the effect of insulin on the cellular distribution of the glucose transporters in cultured 3T3-L1 adipocytes. In basal cells a substantial portion of the label was present in a tubulovesicular structure at the trans side of the Golgi apparatus, likely to represent the trans-Golgi reticulum, and in small vesicles present in the cytoplasm. Treatment with insulin induced a rapid translocation of transporters from the tubulovesicular structure to the plasma membrane. The transporter labeling of the plasma membrane increased three-fold and that of the tubulovesicular structure decreased by half. There was no effect of insulin on the degree of label in the small cytoplasmic vesicles. Removal of insulin from stimulated cells rapidly reversed the distribution of transporters to that seen in basal cells. This study thus provides the first morphological evidence for the occurrence of transporter translocation in insulin action and identifies for the first time the intracellular location of the responsive transporters.

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