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Diabetologia. 2018 Feb;61(2):433-444. doi: 10.1007/s00125-017-4456-3. Epub 2017 Oct 1.

α-linolenic acid supplementation prevents exercise-induced improvements in white adipose tissue mitochondrial bioenergetics and whole-body glucose homeostasis in obese Zucker rats.

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Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences, University of Guelph, 50 Stone Rd East, Guelph, ON, N1G 2W1, Canada.
Department of Health Sciences, Brock University, St Catharines, ON, Canada.
Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences, University of Guelph, 50 Stone Rd East, Guelph, ON, N1G 2W1, Canada.



While the underlying mechanisms in the development of insulin resistance remain inconclusive, metabolic dysfunction in both white adipose tissue (WAT) and skeletal muscle have been implicated in the process. Therefore, we investigated the independent and combined effects of α-linolenic acid (ALA) supplementation and exercise training on whole-body glucose homeostasis and mitochondrial bioenergetics within the WAT and skeletal muscle of obese Zucker rats.


We randomly assigned obese Zucker rats to receive a control diet alone or supplemented with ALA and to remain sedentary or undergo exercise training for 4 weeks (CON-Sed, ALA-Sed, CON-Ex and ALA-Ex groups). Whole-body glucose tolerance was determined in response to a glucose load. Mitochondrial content and bioenergetics were examined in skeletal muscle and epididymal WAT (eWAT). Insulin sensitivity and cellular stress were assessed by western blot.


Exercise training independently improved whole-body glucose tolerance as well as insulin-induced signalling in muscle and WAT. However, the consumption of ALA during exercise training prevented exercise-mediated improvements in whole-body glucose tolerance. ALA consumption did not influence exercise-induced adaptations within skeletal muscle, insulin sensitivity and mitochondrial bioenergetics. In contrast, within eWAT, ALA supplementation attenuated insulin signalling, decreased mitochondrial respiration and increased the fraction of electron leak to reactive oxygen species (ROS).


These findings indicate that, in an obese rodent model, consumption of ALA attenuates the favourable adaptive changes of exercise training within eWAT, which consequently impacts whole-body glucose homeostasis. The direct translation to humans, however, remains to be determined.


Exercise; Glucose homeostasis; Insulin signalling; Mitochondria; Obesity; PUFA; ROS; Respiration; Skeletal muscle; WAT

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