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Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2004 Dec;28 Suppl 4:S12-21.

Failure of fat cell proliferation, mitochondrial function and fat oxidation results in ectopic fat storage, insulin resistance and type II diabetes mellitus.

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  • 1Pennington Biomedical Research Center, Baton Rouge, LA, USA.



It is widely accepted that increasing adiposity is associated with insulin resistance and increased risk of type II diabetes. The predominant paradigm used to explain this link is the portal/visceral hypothesis. This hypothesis proposes that increased adiposity, particularly in the visceral depots, leads to increased free-fatty acid flux and inhibition of insulin-action via Randle's effect in insulin-sensitive tissues.


In this review, limitations of this paradigm will be discussed and two other paradigms that may explain established links between adiposity and insulin resistance/diabetes will be presented. (A) Ectopic fat storage syndrome. Three lines of evidence support this concept. Firstly, failure to develop adequate adipose tissue mass (also known as 'lipodystrophy') results in severe insulin resistance and diabetes. This is thought to be the result of ectopic storage of lipid into liver, skeletal muscle and the pancreatic insulin-secreting beta cell. Secondly, most obese patients also shunt lipid into the skeletal muscle, the liver and probably the beta cell. The importance of this finding is exemplified by several studies demonstrating that the degree of lipid infiltration into skeletal muscle and liver highly correlates with insulin resistance. Thirdly, increased fat cell size is highly associated with insulin resistance and the development of diabetes. Increased fat cell size may represent the failure of the adipose tissue mass to expand and therefore to accommodate an increased energy influx. Taken together, these observations support the 'acquired lipodystrophy' hypothesis as a link between adiposity and insulin resistance. Ectopic fat deposition is therefore the result of additive or synergistic effects including increased dietary intake, decreased fat oxidation and impaired adipogenesis. (B) Endocrine paradigm. This concept was developed in parallel with the 'ectopic fat storage syndrome' hypothesis. Adipose tissue secretes a variety of endocrine hormones such as leptin, interleukin-6, angiotensin II, adiponectin and resistin. From this viewpoint, adipose tissue plays a critical role as an endocrine gland, secreting numerous factors with potent effects on the metabolism of distant tissues.


The novel paradigms of ectopic fat and fat cell as an endocrine organ probably will constitute a new framework for the study of the links between our obesigenic environment and the risk of developing diabetes.

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