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Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2004 Sep;287(3):E558-65. Epub 2004 May 27.

Intramyocellular lipid content in type 2 diabetes patients compared with overweight sedentary men and highly trained endurance athletes.

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  • 1Department of Movement Sciences, Nutrition Research Institute Maastricht, Maastricht University, 6200 MD Maastricht, The Netherlands.


Recent evidence suggests that intramyocellular lipid (IMCL) accretion is associated with obesity and the development of insulin resistance and/or type 2 diabetes. However, trained endurance athletes are markedly insulin sensitive, despite an elevated mixed muscle lipid content. In an effort to explain this metabolic paradox, we compared muscle fiber type-specific IMCL storage between populations known to have elevated IMCL deposits. Immunofluorescence microscopy was performed on muscle biopsies obtained from eight highly trained endurance athletes, eight type 2 diabetes patients, and eight overweight, sedentary men after an overnight fast. Mixed muscle lipid content was substantially greater in the endurance athletes (4.0 +/- 0.4% area lipid stained) compared with the diabetes patients and the overweight men (2.3 +/- 0.4 and 2.2 +/- 0.5%, respectively). More than 40% of the greater mixed muscle lipid content was attributed to a higher proportion type I muscle fibers (62 +/- 8 vs. 38 +/- 3 and 33 +/- 7%, respectively), which contained 2.8 +/- 0.3-fold more lipid than the type II fibers. The remaining difference was explained by a significantly greater IMCL content in the type I muscle fibers of the trained athletes. Differences in IMCL content between groups or fiber types were accounted for by differences in lipid droplet density, not lipid droplet size. IMCL distribution showed an exponential increase in lipid content from the central region toward the sarcolemma, which was similar between groups and fiber types. In conclusion, IMCL contents can be substantially greater in trained endurance athletes compared with overweight and/or type 2 diabetes patients. Because structural characteristics and intramyocellular distribution of lipid aggregates seem to be similar between groups, we conclude that elevated IMCL deposits are unlikely to be directly responsible for inducing insulin resistance.

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