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J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2008 Sep;93(9):3618-26. doi: 10.1210/jc.2008-0760. Epub 2008 Jun 10.

Impaired insulin activation and dephosphorylation of glycogen synthase in skeletal muscle of women with polycystic ovary syndrome is reversed by pioglitazone treatment.

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  • 1Department of Endocrinology, Diabetes Research Centre, Odense University Hospital, Kloevervaenget 6, DK-5000 Odense C, Denmark.



Insulin resistance is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes in women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). The molecular mechanisms underlying reduced insulin-mediated glycogen synthesis in skeletal muscle of patients with PCOS have not been established.


We investigated protein content, activity, and phosphorylation of glycogen synthase (GS) and its major upstream inhibitor, GS kinase (GSK)-3 in skeletal muscle biopsies from 24 PCOS patients (before treatment) and 14 matched control subjects and 10 PCOS patients after 16 wk treatment with pioglitazone. All were metabolically characterized by euglycemic-hyperinsulinemic clamps and indirect calorimetry.


Reduced insulin-mediated glucose disposal (P < 0.05) was associated with a lower insulin-stimulated GS activity in PCOS patients (P < 0.05), compared with controls. This was, in part, explained by absent insulin-mediated dephosphorylation of GS at the NH2-terminal sites 2+2a, whereas dephosphorylation at the COOH-terminal sites 3a+3b was intact in PCOS subjects (P < 0.05). Consistently, multiple linear regression analysis showed that insulin activation of GS was dependent on dephosphorylation of sites 3a+3b in women with PCOS. No significant abnormalities in GSK-3alpha or -3beta were found in PCOS subjects. Pioglitazone treatment improved insulin-stimulated glucose metabolism and GS activity in PCOS (all P < 0.05) and restored the ability of insulin to dephosphorylate GS at sites 2 and 2a.


Impaired insulin activation of GS including absent dephosphorylation at sites 2+2a contributes to insulin resistance in skeletal muscle in PCOS. The ability of pioglitazone to enhance insulin sensitivity, in part, involves improved insulin action on GS activity and dephosphorylation at NH2-terminal sites.

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