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J Biol Chem. 2006 Aug 25;281(34):24336-44. Epub 2006 Jun 27.

p38 Mitogen-activated protein kinase mediates free fatty acid-induced gluconeogenesis in hepatocytes.

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  • 1Division of Biological Sciences, Endocrine Biology Program, CIIT Centers for Health Research, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina 27709, USA.


Free fatty acids (FFA) are considered as a causative link between obesity and diabetes. In various animal models and in humans FFA can stimulate hepatic gluconeogenesis. Although the in vivo role of FFA in hepatic gluconeogenesis has been clearly established, the intracellular role of FFA and related signaling pathway remain unclear in the regulation of hepatic gluconeogenic gene transcription. In this study, we have identified p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase (p38) as a critical signaling component in FFA-induced transcription of key gluconeogenic genes. We show in primary hepatocytes that both mid- and long-chain fatty acids (saturated or unsaturated) could activate p38 and increase levels of phosphoenolpyruvate carboxykinase (PEPCK), glucose-6-phosphatase, and peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma coactivator alpha (PGC-1alpha) gene transcripts. The FFA-induced expression of PEPCK and PGC-1alpha genes and gluconeogenesis in isolated hepatocytes could be blocked by the inhibition of p38. Furthermore, PGC-1alpha phosphorylation by p38 was necessary for FFA-induced activation of the PEPCK promoter. Additionally, FFA stimulated phosphorylation of cAMP-response element-binding protein (CREB) through p38. The overexpression of the dominant-negative CREB prevented FFA-induced activation of the PEPCK promoter. Finally, we show that FFA activation of p38 requires protein kinase Cdelta. Together, our results indicate that p38 plays a critical role in FFA-induced transcription of gluconeogenic genes, and the known gluconeogenic regulators, PGC-1alpha and CREB, are also integral parts of FFA-stimulated transcription of gluconeogenic genes.

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