We report here that octanoate, a medium chain fatty acid, induces adipocyte differentiation in 3T3-L1 cells by co-treatment with dexamethasone, although octanoate has been known not to stimulate 3T3-L1 adipogenesis. A low concentration of exogenous glucose prevented 3T3-L1 adipogenesis induced by 1-methyl 3-isobutylxanthine, dexamethasone, and insulin (MDI) treatment (a common protocol for adipocyte differentiation). In contrast, co-treatment with dexamethasone and octanoate (D-OCT) induced adipogenesis under the same conditions. These findings imply that octanoate, rather than glucose, is the source of accumulated lipids in D-OCT-induced adipogenesis. D-OCT increased expression of the differentiation markers peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR)gamma2 and caveolin-1. A specific inhibitor of p38 mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase inhibited D-OCT-induced adipogenesis. These results suggest that the p38 MAP kinase pathway followed by up-regulation of PPARgamma2 may be involved in 3T3-L1 adipocyte differentiation induced by D-OCT, as well as by MDI.