Vanadium salts such as vanadyl sulfate (VS), potent inhibitors of protein tyrosine phosphatases, have been shown to mimic, augment, and prolong insulin's action. However, the molecular mechanism of responses to these salts is not clear. In the present studies, we examined if VS-induced effects on insulin action are associated with enhancement or augmentation in the activation state of key components of the insulin signaling pathway. Treatment of insulin receptor-overexpressing cells with insulin or VS resulted in a time-dependent transient increase in phosphorylation and activation of extracellular signal-regulated kinases 1 and 2 (ERK 1/2) that peaked at about 5 min, then declined rapidly to about baseline within 30 min. However, when the cells were treated with VS before stimulation with insulin, sustained ERK 1/2 phosphorylation and activation were observed well beyond 60 min. VS treatment also prolonged the insulin-stimulated activation of phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3-K), which was associated with sustained interaction between insulin receptor substrate-1 (IRS-1) and the p(85 alpha) subunit of phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3-K) in response to insulin. These data indicate that prolongation of insulin-stimulated ERK 1/2 and PI3-K activation by VS is due to a more stable complex formation of IRS-1 with the p(85 alpha) subunit which may, in turn, be responsible for its ability to enhance and extend the biological effects of insulin.