Type 2 diabetes is caused by a combination of β-cell dysfunction and insulin resistance. Over time, hyperglycemia worsens, a phenomenon that has been attributed to deleterious effects of chronic hyperglycemia (glucotoxicity) or chronic hyperlipidemia (lipotoxicity) on β-cell function and is often accompanied by increased islet triacylglycerol (TAG) content and decreased insulin gene expression. To examine these two potentially pathogenic forces, we studied Zucker rats (leptin receptor wild type, +/+; heterozygous, +/-; and mutant, -/-). First, +/+ and +/- Zucker rats were compared metabolically. At 6 weeks of age, the +/- rats had a lower level of islet insulin mRNA compared with +/+. At 12 weeks of age, differences were found in body weight and islet TAG content; however, levels of insulin mRNA were equivalent. Second, we examined whether worsening of the diabetic state in the homozygous mutant (-/-) Zucker diabetic fatty (ZDF) rat is related more to chronic hyperglycemia or to hyperlipidemia. The ZDF rats were treated for 6 weeks with either bezafibrate, a lipid-lowering drug that does not affect plasma glucose levels, or phlorizin, a drug that reduces plasma glucose without lowering lipid levels. Bezafibrate treatment lessened the rise in plasma TAG observed in nontreated rats (239 ± 16 vs. 388 ± 36 mg/dl, treated versus nontreated; P < 0.0001) but did not prevent the rise in fasting plasma glucose. Despite lowering plasma TAG, bezafibrate was not effective in preventing an increased islet TAG content and did not prevent the associated decrease in insulin mRNA levels. Phlorizin treatment prevented hyperglycemia (61 ± 2 vs. 145 ± 7 mg/dl, treated versus nontreated; P < 0.0001) and lowered islet TAG content (32.7 ± 0.7 vs. 47.8 ± 2.7 ng/islet, treated versus nontreated; P < 0.0001) and preserved insulin mRNA levels without preventing hypertriglyceridemia. Plasma free fatty acid level did not correlate with changes in islet TAG or insulin mRNA levels. We conclude that antecedent elevated plasma glucose levels, not plasma lipid levels, are associated with elevated islet TAG content and decreased insulin mRNA levels in ZDF animals.