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Diabetologia. 2014 Mar;57(3):582-91. doi: 10.1007/s00125-013-3111-x. Epub 2013 Dec 14.

A sustained increase in plasma NEFA upregulates the Toll-like receptor network in human muscle.

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Department of Medicine-Diabetes Division, University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, San Antonio, TX, 78229, USA.



Insulin-sensitive tissues (muscle, liver) of individuals with obesity and type 2 diabetes mellitus are in a state of low-grade inflammation, characterised by increased Toll-like receptor (TLR) expression and TLR-driven signalling. However, the cause of this mild inflammatory state is unclear. We tested the hypothesis that a prolonged mild increase in plasma NEFA will increase TLR expression and TLR-driven signalling (nuclear factor κB [NFκB] and mitogen-activated kinase [MAPK]) and impair insulin action in muscle of lean healthy individuals.


Twelve lean, normal-glucose-tolerant participants were randomised to receive a 48 h infusion (30 ml/h) of saline or Intralipid followed by a euglycaemic-hyperinsulinaemic clamp. Vastus lateralis muscle biopsies were performed before and during the clamp.


Lipid infusion impaired insulin-stimulated IRS-1 tyrosine phosphorylation and reduced peripheral insulin sensitivity (p < 0.01). The elevation in circulating NEFA increased expression of TLR3, TLR4 and TLR5, and several MAPK (MAPK8, MAP4K4, MAP2K3) and inhibitor of κB kinase-NFκB (CHUK [IKKA], c-REL [REL] and p65 [RELA, NFKB3, p65]) signalling genes (p < 0.05). The lipid infusion also increased extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) phosphorylation (p < 0.05) and tended to reduce the content of inhibitor of kappa Bα (p = 0.09). The muscle content of most diacylglycerol, ceramide and acylcarnitine species was unaffected. In summary, insulin resistance induced by prolonged low-dose lipid infusion occurs together with increased TLR-driven inflammatory signalling and impaired insulin-stimulated IRS-1 tyrosine phosphorylation.


A sustained, mild elevation in plasma NEFA is sufficient to increase TLR expression and TLR-driven signalling (NFκB and MAPK) in lean individuals. The activation of this pathway by NEFA may be involved in the pathogenesis of insulin resistance in humans.


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