- HIV protease inhibitors (HPIs) are potent antiretroviral agents clinically used in the management of HIV infection. Recently, HPI therapy has been linked to the development of a metabolic syndrome in which adipocyte insulin resistance appears to play a major role. In this study, we assessed the effect of nelfinavir on glucose uptake and lipolysis in differentiated 3T3-L1 adipocytes. An 18-h exposure to nelfinavir resulted in an impaired insulin-stimulated glucose uptake and activation of basal lipolysis. Impaired insulin stimulation of glucose up take occurred at nelfinavir concentrations >10 micromol/l (EC(50) = 20 micromol/l) and could be attributed to impaired GLUT4 translocation. Basal glycerol and free fatty acid (FFA) release were significantly enhanced with as low as 5 micromol/l nelfinavir, displaying fivefold stimulation of FFA release at 10 micromol/l. Yet, the antilipolytic action of insulin was preserved at this concentration. Potential underlying mechanisms for these metabolic effects included both impaired insulin stimulation of protein kinase B Ser 473 phosphorylation with preserved insulin receptor substrate tyrosine phosphorylation and decreased expression of the lipolysis regulator perilipin. Troglitazone pre- and cotreatment with nelfinavir partly protected the cells from the increase in basal lipolysis, but it had no effect on the impairment in insulin-stimulated glucose uptake induced by this HPI. This study demonstrates that nelfinavir induces insulin resistance and activates basal lipolysis in differentiated 3T3-L1 adipocytes, providing potential cellular mechanisms that may contribute to altered adipocyte metabolism in treated HIV patients.