Plasma concentrations of adiponectin, a novel adipose-specific protein with putative antiatherogenic and antiinflammatory effects, were found to be decreased in Japanese individuals with obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, conditions commonly associated with insulin resistance and hyperinsulinemia. To further characterize the relationship between adiponectinemia and adiposity, insulin sensitivity, insulinemia, and glucose tolerance, we measured plasma adiponectin concentrations, body composition (dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry), insulin sensitivity (M, hyperinsulinemic clamp), and glucose tolerance (75-g oral glucose tolerance test) in 23 Caucasians and 121 Pima Indians, a population with a high propensity for obesity and type 2 diabetes. Plasma adiponectin concentration was negatively correlated with percent body fat (r = -0.43), waist-to-thigh ratio (r = -0.46), fasting plasma insulin concentration (r = -0.63), and 2-h glucose concentration (r = -0.38), and positively correlated with M (r = 0.59) (all P < 0.001); all relations were evident in both ethnic groups. In a multivariate analysis, fasting plasma insulin concentration, M, and waist-to-thigh ratio, but not percent body fat or 2-h glucose concentration, were significant independent determinates of adiponectinemia, explaining 47% of the variance (r(2) = 0.47). Differences in adiponectinemia between Pima Indians and Caucasians (7.2 +/- 2.6 vs. 10.2 +/- 4.3 microg/ml, P < 0.0001) and between Pima Indians with normal, impaired, and diabetic glucose tolerance (7.5 +/- 2.7, 6.1 +/- 2.0, 5.5 +/- 1.6 microg/ml, P < 0.0001) remained significant after adjustment for adiposity, but not after additional adjustment for M or fasting insulin concentration. These results confirm that obesity and type 2 diabetes are associated with low plasma adiponectin concentrations in different ethnic groups and indicate that the degree of hypoadiponectinemia is more closely related to the degree of insulin resistance and hyperinsulinemia than to the degree of adiposity and glucose intolerance.