A key metabolic action of insulin is the stimulation of nonoxidative glucose utilization in skeletal muscle, by increasing both glucose uptake and glycogen synthesis. The molecular mechanism underlying this process has been investigated using a variety of experimental systems. We report here the use of cultured human myoblasts to study insulin control of glycogen synthesis in humans. In these cells insulin stimulates glycogen synthesis approx. 2.2-fold, associated with a similar activation of glycogen synthase (GS) which occurs within 5-10 min of the addition of insulin. Insulin also causes inactivation of glycogen synthase kinase-3 (GSK-3) and activation of protein kinase B, both processes being sufficiently rapid to account for the effects of insulin on GS. Activation by insulin of the protein kinases p70(s6K), pg90(s6K) and extracellular signal-regulated kinase 2 (ERK2) is observed, but is significantly slower than the activation of GS. Selective inhibitors of the p70(s6K) pathway (rapamycin), the ERK2/p90(s6K) pathway (PD98059) and phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (wortmannin) have been used to probe the contribution of these components to insulin signalling in human muscle. Wortmannin blocks activation of both glycogen synthesis and GS and inactivation of GSK-3. PD98059 is without effect an these events, while rapamycin is without effect on inactivation of GSK-3 but partially blocks activation of glycogen synthesis and GS. Taken together, these findings suggest that protein kinase B is responsible for the inactivation of GSK-3, but that an additional rapamycin-sensitive mechanism may contribute to the activation of GS and stimulation of glycogen synthesis.