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J Lipid Res. 2007 Sep;48(9):1905-14. Epub 2007 May 9.

Thematic review series: Adipocyte Biology. Adipocyte stress: the endoplasmic reticulum and metabolic disease.

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  • 1Department of Genetics and Complex Diseases, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA 02115, USA.


In the context of obesity and its related maladies, the adipocyte plays a central role in the balance, or imbalance, of metabolic homeostasis. An obese, hypertrophic adipocyte is challenged by many insults, including surplus energy, inflammation, insulin resistance, and considerable stress to various organelles. The endoplasmic reticulum (ER) is one such vital organelle that demonstrates significant signs of stress and dysfunction in obesity and insulin resistance. Under normal conditions, the ER must function in the unique and trying environment of the adipocyte, adapting to meet the demands of increased protein synthesis and secretion, energy storage in the form of triglyceride droplet formation, and nutrient sensing that are particular to the differentiated fat cell. When nutrients are in pathological excess, the ER is overwhelmed and the unfolded protein response (UPR) is activated. Remarkably, the consequences of UPR activation have been causally linked to the development of insulin resistance through a multitude of possible mechanisms, including c-jun N-terminal kinase activation, inflammation, and oxidative stress. This review will focus on the function of the ER under normal conditions in the adipocyte and the pathological effects of a stressed ER contributing to adipocyte dysfunction and a thwarted metabolic homeostasis.

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