Metabolic effects of cortisol may be critically modulated by glucocorticoid metabolism in tissues. Specifically, active cortisol is regenerated from inactive cortisone by the enzyme 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 1 (11-HSD1) in adipose and liver. We examined activity and mRNA levels of 11-HSD1 and tissue cortisol and cortisone levels in sc adipose tissue biopsies from 12 Caucasian (7 males and 5 females) and 19 Pima Indian (10 males and 9 females) nondiabetic subjects aged 28 ± 7.6 yr (mean ± SD; range, 18-45). Adipose 11-HSD1 activity and mRNA levels were highly correlated (r = 0.51, P = 0.003). Adipose 11-HSD1 activity was positively related to measures of total (body mass index, percentage body fat) and central (waist circumference) adiposity (P < 0.05 for all) and fasting glucose (r = 0.43, P = 0.02), insulin (r = 0.60, P = 0.0005), and insulin resistance by the homeostasis model (r = 0.70, P < 0.0001) but did not differ between sexes or ethnic groups. Intra-adipose cortisol was positively associated with fasting insulin (r = 0.37, P = 0.04) but was not significantly correlated with 11-HSD1 mRNA or activity or with other metabolic variables. In this cross-sectional study, higher adipose 11-HSD1 activity is associated with features of the metabolic syndrome. Our data support the hypothesis that increased regeneration of cortisol in adipose tissue influences metabolic sequelae of human obesity.