Abstract Otsuka Long–Evans Tokushima Fatty (OLETF) rats are a new strain of spontaneous non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) models. To evaluate the role of glucose transporters (GLUT) in the development of diabetes in this model, we examined the action of insulin on the translocation of GLUT4 and GLUT1 in isolated adipocytes, and the GLUT4 protein levels in muscles. Long–Evans Tokushima Otsuka (LETO) rats were used as a control strain. In adipocytes, the GLUT4 protein levels in OLETF rats at 30 weeks of age (diabetic stage) were considerably lower than those in LETO rats at the same age. At a pre-diabetic stage (7 weeks), there were no significant differences in GLUT4 protein levels in adipocytes between LETO and OLETF rats. However, the degree of GLUT4 translocation in OLETF rats was lower than that in LETO rats at 7 weeks of age. There were no differences in GLUT1 levels in adipocytes between the two strains. In muscles, the decrease in GLUT4 protein was observed in OLETF rats at 30 weeks of age. Whether such a difference is under the influence of hyperglycemia was also examined using rats rendered diabetic by 70% pancreatectomy. OLETF rats aged 7 weeks were subjected to partial pancreatectomy (Px) and sham pancreatectomy (sham). At 4 weeks after surgery, GLUT4 protein levels in adipose tissues and skeletal muscles were determined. GLUT4 decrease was observed for both tissues of hyperglycemic Px rats compared with euglycemic sham. Moreover, we examined the direct effect of glucose on GLUT4 protein using primary cultured adipocytes of OLETF rats at 5 weeks of age. After 7-day culture with normal (5.6 mmol/l) or high (25 mmol/l) concentrations of glucose, the GLUT4 protein levels in adipocytes decreased at 25 mmol/l glucose compared with 5.6 mmol/l glucose. These findings suggest an early defect in the insulin resistance of OLETF rats probably reflects impaired GLUT4 translocation. The GLUT4 decrease, which occurs later in the process appears to be a consequence, rather than a cause of diabetes in OLETF rats.