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J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2011 Feb;96(2):438-46. doi: 10.1210/jc.2010-1174. Epub 2010 Nov 3.

Free fatty acids induce insulin resistance in both cardiac and skeletal muscle microvasculature in humans.

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Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism, Department of Internal Medicine and General Clinical Research Center, University of Virginia Health System, P.O. Box 801410, Charlottesville, Virginia 22908, USA.



Insulin recruits microvasculature in both cardiac and skeletal muscle, which increases the endothelial exchange surface area. Plasma concentrations of free fatty acids (FFAs) are elevated in patients with diabetes, which impairs insulin-mediated skeletal muscle microvascular recruitment.


The objective of the study was to examine whether elevated FFAs likewise cause insulin resistance in cardiac muscle microvasculature.


The study was conducted at the General Clinical Research Center at the University of Virginia.


Twenty-two healthy, young adults were studied twice in random order after an overnight fast. Each subject received a 5-h systemic infusion of either saline or Intralipid/heparin with a 1 mU/min · kg euglycemic insulin clamp superimposed for the last 2 h. Cardiac and forearm skeletal muscle microvascular blood volume (MBV) and flow velocity were measured and microvascular blood flow (MBF) calculated before and at the end of the insulin infusion.


Insulin significantly increased MBV and MBF in both cardiac (P < 0.0001 for both) and skeletal (P = 0.008 and < 0.03, respectively) muscle. Microvascular flow velocity increased slightly but significantly in the skeletal (P = 0.04) but not in cardiac muscle. Lipid infusion lowered insulin-stimulated whole-body glucose disposal and abolished insulin-mediated increases in MBV and MBF in both cardiac and skeletal muscle. Whole-body insulin sensitivity predicted skeletal but not cardiac muscle microvascular responses to insulin. Insulin even decreased skeletal muscle MBV during lipid infusion in subjects who were moderately sensitive to insulin metabolically.


In conclusion, high plasma concentrations of FFAs cause insulin resistance in cardiac as well as skeletal muscle microvasculature in healthy humans. This may contribute to the association of cardiac complications with metabolic insulin resistance in diabetes.

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