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J Endocrinol. 2008 May;197(2):189-204. doi: 10.1677/JOE-08-0054.

Glucocorticoids and fatty acid metabolism in humans: fuelling fat redistribution in the metabolic syndrome.

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  • 1Endocrinology Unit, Queen's Medical Research Institute, Centre for Cardiovascular Science, University of Edinburgh, 47 Little France Crescent, Edinburgh EH16 4TJ, Scotland, UK.


Glucocorticoid hormones constitute an integral component of the response to stress, and many of the manifestations of glucocorticoid excess (Cushing's syndrome) are predictable on the basis of their acute effects to raise blood pressure, induce insulin resistance, increase protein catabolism and elevate plasma glucose. However, it appears to be a paradox that the acute lipolytic effect of glucocorticoids is not manifest in long-term weight loss in humans. The effects of glucocorticoids on glucose metabolism are well characterised, involving impaired peripheral glucose uptake and hepatic insulin resistance, and there is mounting evidence that subtle abnormalities in glucocorticoid concentrations in the plasma and/or in tissue sensitivity to glucocorticoids are important in metabolic syndrome. The effects of glucocorticoids on fatty acid metabolism are less well understood than their influence on glucose metabolism. In this article, we review the literature describing the effects of glucocorticoids on fatty acid metabolism, with particular reference to in vivo human studies. We consider the implications for contrasting acute versus chronic effects of glucocorticoids on fat accumulation, effects in different adipose depots and the potential role of glucocorticoid signalling in the pathogenesis and therapy of metabolic syndrome.

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