The long-term hypoglycemic activity of sulphonylurea drugs has been attributed, in part at least, to the stimulation of glucose utilization in extra-pancreatic tissues. The novel sulphonylurea, glimepiride, gives rise to a longer lasting reduction in the blood sugar level in dogs and rabbits compared to glibenclamide (Geisen K, Drug Res38: 1120–1130, 1988). This cannot be explained adequately by elevated plasma insulin levels. This study investigated whether this prolonged hypoglycemic phase was based on the drug's abilities to stimulate glucose utilization and affect the underlying regulatory mechanisms in insulin-sensitive cells in vitro. It was found that in the absence of added insulin, glimepiride and glibenclamide (1–50 μM) stimulated lipogenesis (3T3 adipocytes) and glycogenesis (isolated rat diaphragm) not, vert, similar4.5- and 2.5-fold, respectively, and reduced the isoproterenol-stimulated lipolysis (rat adipocytes) up to 40–60%. The increased glucose utilization was correlated with a 3–4-fold higher 2-deoxyglucose transport rate and amount of GLUT4 at the plasma membrane, as well as with increased activities of key metabolic enzymes (glycerol-3-phosphate acyltransferase, glycogen synthase) within the same concentration range. Furthermore, the low Km cAMP-specific phosphodiesterase was activated 1.8-fold, whereas the cytosolic cAMP level and protein kinase A activity ratios were significantly lowered after incubation of isoproterenol-stimulated rat adipocytes with the sulphonylureas. In many of the aspects studied the novel sulphonylurea, glimepiride, exhibited slightly lower ed50-values than glibenclamide. This study demonstrates correlations existing between drug-induced stimulation of glucose transport/metabolism and cAMP degradation/protein kinase A inhibition as well as between the relative efficiencies of glimepiride and glibenclamide in inducing thse extra-pancreatic processes. Therefore, it is suggested that the stimulation of glucose utilization by sulphonylureas is mediated by a decrease of cAMP-dependent phosphorylation of GLUT4 and glucose metabolizing enzymes. The therapeutic relevance of extra-pancreatic effects of sulphonylureas, in general, and of the differences between glimepiride and glibenclamide as observed in vitro in this work, in particular, remain to be elucidated.