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BACKGROUND: Although the association between insulin resistance and cardiovascular risk is well established, the underlying molecular mechanisms are poorly understood. The antifibrinolytic molecule plasminogen activator inhibitor 1 (PAI-1) is a cardiovascular risk factor that is consistently elevated in insulin-resistant states such as obesity and non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM). The strong positive correlation between this elevated PAI-1 and the degree of hyperinsulinemia not only implicates insulin itself in this increase, but also suggests that PAI-1 is regulated by a pathway that does not become insulin resistant. The data in this report supports this hypothesis. MATERIALS AND METHODS: We show that insulin stimulates PAI-1 gene expression in metabolically insulin-resistant ob/ob mice and in insulin-resistant 3T3-L1 adipocytes. Moreover, we provide evidence that glucose transport and PAI-1 gene expression are mediated by different insulin signaling pathways. These observations suggest that the compensatory hyperinsulinemia that is frequently associated with insulin-resistant states, directly contribute to the elevated PAI-1. CONCLUSIONS: These results provide a potential mechanism for the abnormal increases in cardiovascular risk genes in obesity, NIDDM, and polycystic ovary disease.