In this report, we have characterized the upregulation of glucose transport in two different respiration-deficient fibroblast cell cultures. We have demonstrated that glucose transport increases in respiration-deficient cells as measured by 2 deoxy D-glucose transport and is readily observed in both the WG750 human and G14 Chinese hamster fibroblast respiration-deficient cell lines when compared with the MCH55 normal human and V79 parental Chinese hamster cell lines, respectively. Using subcellular fractionation techniques, the GLUT 1 glucose transporter was found located predominantly in the plasma membrane-enriched fraction of the human and hamster cell lines. In human cells, the expression of the GLUT 1 glucose transporter was elevated three-fold in the plasma membrane-enriched fraction of the WG750 respiration-deficient mutant cells. In the Chinese hamster cell lines, the respiration-deficient G14 cells exhibited no such GLUT 1 glucose transporter elevation in the plasma membrane-enriched fraction, yet expressed a >2-fold increase in glucose transport. Furthermore, the G14 cells had a similar content of GLUT 1 glucose transporter in the plasma membrane fraction when compared with the V79 parental cell line. Using Western blot analysis, the GLUT 1 glucose transporter in G14 cells exhibited a different mobility on a polyacrylamide gel when compared with the mobility of the GLUT 1 glucose transporter of the V79 cell line. This differential mobility of the glucose transporters in the hamster cells appeared to be related to glycosylation differences of the glucose transporters. Although normal human and hamster cell lines exhibited significant increases in insulin-stimulated sugar transport (P < 0.05), the two respective respiration-deficient cell lines exhibited no significant increases in insulin-stimulated sugar transport (P > 0.05). Additionally, the expression of the GLUT 1 mRNA in the human WG750 mutant cells was elevated when compared with GLUT 1 mRNA in normal cells. Insulin exposure significantly increased GLUT 1 mRNA in human cells (P < 0.05). No differences in the GLUT 1 mRNA were observed between both hamster cell lines. Thus, both respiration-deficient cell lines are insulin resistant (i.e., regarding their insulin-stimulated sugar transport). The respiration-deficient mutation results in an increased sugar transport in the human and hamster cells; however, the human cells adapt to the mutation by increasing their levels of GLUT 1 mRNA and eventually membrane-located glucose transporters. On the other hand, the hamster cells adapt by apparently modifying their glucose transporters' intrinsic activity via glycosylation. We feel that these cell systems can be effective models to study the multiple factors involved in sugar transport regulation in vertebrate cells.