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Obes Facts. 2010 Dec;3(6):371-5. doi: 10.1159/000320167. Epub 2010 Sep 17.

Reduced respiratory capacity in muscle mitochondria of obese subjects.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, Karolinska Institutet Solna, Stockholm, Sweden.



The extent of weight gain varies among individuals despite equal calorie overconsumption. Furthermore, weight gain is often less than expected from energy excess. This suggests differences in metabolic efficiency and basal metabolism. Since mitochondrial uncoupling accounts for a substantial portion of the basal metabolic rate, we compared skeletal muscle mitochondrial respiration in obese subjects to normal-weight reference groups with various degrees of physical activity.


Muscle biopsies were taken from the vastus lateralis muscle of 9 healthy obese subjects (BMI 40 ± 3). Mitochondria were isolated and analyzed for coupled (state 3) and uncoupled (state 4) respirations as well as mitochondrial efficiency (P/O ratio) using pyruvate as a substrate. Respiratory data were compared to reference groups A, normal-weight untrained (BMI 24 ± 0.7), and B, normal-weight trained (BMI 24 ± 0.6).


Obese subjects had a decreased respiratory capacity per mitochondrial volume compared to the reference groups: this was evident in state 4 (65% and 35% of reference group A and B, respectively) and state 3 (53% and 29% of A and B, respectively) (p < 0.05).


Obese subjects had a low capacity for fuel oxidation, which may play a role in the predisposition of obesity. However, whether lower mitochondrial capacity is a cause or a consequence of obesity requires further research.

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