Recent reports indicate that girls with premature adrenarche are at risk of developing functional ovarian hyperandrogenism and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). As insulin and insulin-like growth factors (IGFs) have been implicated in the pathogenesis of PCOS, we hypothesize that they may also have a role in the hyperandrogenism of premature adrenarche. Thirty-five prepubertal girls (23 Caribbean Hispanics and 12 Black African-Americans) underwent a 60-min ACTH and LH-releasing hormone test. Insulin sensitivity (S(I)) was assessed using the frequently sampled i.v. glucose tolerance test with tolbutamide. Fasting levels of IGF-I, IGF-binding protein-1 (IGFBP-1), IGFBP-3, sex hormone-binding globulin, and free testosterone (T) were also obtained. The mean age of the patients was 6.8 yr, and bone age was 8.0 yr. Twenty-five patients had a family history of noninsulin-dependent diabetes mellitus and 19 patients had acanthosis nigricans. The mean S(I) for the entire group was 6.78 +/- 5.21 x 10(-4) min/microU x mL (normal prepubertal S(I), 6.5 +/- 0.54 x 10(-4) min(-1) x microU(-1) x mL(-1)). However, 15 of the 35 girls had an S(I) that was more than 2 SD below the mean reported for normal prepubertal children. Of these 15 patients, 13 were obese, and 14 had acanthosis nigricans. For the entire group of girls, the mean ACTH-stimulated levels of 17-hydroxypregnenolone (<em>17OHP</em>reg), dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), androstenedione (AS), 17-hydroxyprogesterone (<em>17OHP</em>), and T and the ACTH-stimulated ratios of <em>17OHP</em>reg/<em>17OHP</em>, <em>17OHP</em>reg/DHEA, <em>17OHP</em>/AS, and DHEA/AS did not differ from the levels reported for Tanner stage II-III pubertal girls. The girls were divided into two groups based on their S(I) (group I, S(I) >2 SD below the mean for age; group II, normal S(I)). The group I girls with a reduced S(I) had significantly higher ACTH-stimulated levels of <em>17OHP</em>reg (group I, 760 +/- 87.84 ng/dL; group II, 428.9 +/- 46.28 ng/dL; P = 0.002), <em>17OHP</em>reg/<em>17OHP</em> ratio (group I, 3.95 +/- 0.36; group II, 2.96 +/- 0.35; P = 0.05), <em>17OHP</em>reg/DHEA (group I, 2.06 +/- 0.21; group II, 1.4 +/- 0.13; P = 0.01), and free T (group I, 1 +/- 0.23 ng/dL; group II, 0.49 +/- 0.19 ng/dL; P = 0.014). Levels of sex hormone-binding globulin were lower in the group I girls. Furthermore, for the entire group of girls, the S(I) correlated inversely with ACTH-stimulated levels of <em>17OHP</em>reg, DHEA, and AS and the ACTH-stimulated ratio of <em>17OHP</em>reg/<em>17OHP</em>. IGF-I correlated inversely with S(I) (r = -0.94; P < 0.001) and correlated directly with the ACTH-stimulated levels of <em>17OHP</em>reg (r = 0.8; P < 0.001) and AS (r = 0.63; P < 0.05). IGF-I also correlated with the ACTH-stimulated ratios of <em>17OHP</em>reg/<em>17OHP</em> (r = 0.61; P < 0.05), <em>17OHP</em>reg/DHEA (r = 0.9; P < 0.001), <em>17OHP</em>/AS (r = 0.79; P < 0.001), and DHEA/AS (r = 0.96; P < 0.001). IGFBP-1 correlated inversely with the ACTH-stimulated levels of <em>17OHP</em>reg (r = -0.38; P < 0.05) and DHEA (r = -0.36; P < 0.05). To summarize, the ACTH-stimulated delta5-steroid levels were higher in prepubertal girls with premature adrenarche and reduced S(I). There was a significant inverse correlation among ACTH-stimulated hormone levels, S(I), and IGFBP-1, whereas IGF-I correlated directly with ACTH-stimulated androgens. These findings support the hypothesis that insulin and IGFs may have a role in the hyperandrogenism of premature adrenarche just as they do in PCOS. Hence, in certain girls with premature adrenarche, hyperandrogenism may be the first presentation of PCOS and/or insulin resistance.