We have studied the time course and relative effects of hypoinsulinaemia and hyperglycaemia on concentrations of uncoupling protein (UCP) and glucose transporter (GLUT4) and their mRNAs in brown adipose tissue (BAT) during the early phase of diabetes induced by streptozotocin. Two days after intravenous injection of streptozotocin, plasma insulin concentration was at its lowest and glycaemia was higher than 22 mmol/l. After 3 days, a 60% decrease in BAT UCP mRNA concentration and a 36% decrease in UCP was observed. Concomitantly, there was an 80% decrease in GLUT4 mRNA and a 44% decrease in GLUT4 levels. When hyperglycaemia was prevented by infusing phlorizin into diabetic rats, BAT UCP mRNA and protein levels were further decreased (respectively 90% and 60% lower than in control rats). In contrast, the marked decreases in GLUT4 mRNA and protein concentrations in BAT were similar in hyperglycaemic and normoglycaemic diabetic rats. Infusion of physiological amounts of insulin restored normoglycaemia in diabetic rats, and BAT UCP and GLUT4 mRNA and protein concentrations were maintained at the level of control rats. When insulin infusion was stopped, a 75% decrease in BAT UCP mRNA level and a 75% decrease in GLUT4 mRNA level were observed after 24 h, but UCP and GLUT4 concentrations did not decrease. This study shows that insulin plays an important role in the regulation of UCP and GLUT4 mRNA and protein concentrations in BAT. Hyperglycaemia partially prevents the rapid decrease in concentration of UCP and its mRNA observed in insulinopenic diabetes whereas it did not affect the decrease in GLUT4 mRNA and protein concentration. It is suggested that UCP is produced by a glucose-dependent gene.