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Most or all mammalian cells contain vanadium at a concentration of 20 nM. The bulk of the vanadium in cells is probably in the reduced vanadyl (IV) form. Although this element is essential and should be present in the diet in minute quantities, no known physiological role for vanadium has been found thus far. In the years 1975–1980 the vanadate ion was shown to act as an efficient inhibitor of Na+,K+-ATPase and of other related phosphohydrolases as well. In 1980 it was observed that vanadate and vanadyl, when added to intact rat adipocytes, mimic the biological actions of insulin in stimulating hexose uptake and glucose oxidation. This initiated a long, currently active, field of research among basic scientists and diabetologists. Several of the aspects studied are reviewed here.