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Research Article

Mechanism of free fatty acid-induced insulin resistance in humans.

M Roden, T B Price, G Perseghin, K F Petersen, D L Rothman, G W Cline and G I Shulman

Department of Internal Medicine, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut 06520, USA.

Published June 15, 1996

To examine the mechanism by which lipids cause insulin resistance in humans, skeletal muscle glycogen and glucose-6-phosphate concentrations were measured every 15 min by simultaneous 13C and 31P nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy in nine healthy subjects in the presence of low (0.18 +/- 0.02 mM [mean +/- SEM]; control) or high (1.93 +/- 0.04 mM; lipid infusion) plasma free fatty acid levels under euglycemic (approximately 5.2 mM) hyperinsulinemic (approximately 400 pM) clamp conditions for 6 h. During the initial 3.5 h of the clamp the rate of whole-body glucose uptake was not affected by lipid infusion, but it then decreased continuously to be approximately 46% of control values after 6 h (P < 0.00001). Augmented lipid oxidation was accompanied by a approximately 40% reduction of oxidative glucose metabolism starting during the third hour of lipid infusion (P < 0.05). Rates of muscle glycogen synthesis were similar during the first 3 h of lipid and control infusion, but thereafter decreased to approximately 50% of control values (4.0 +/- 1.0 vs. 9.3 +/- 1.6 mumol/[kg.min], P < 0.05). Reduction of muscle glycogen synthesis by elevated plasma free fatty acids was preceded by a fall of muscle glucose-6-phosphate concentrations starting at approximately 1.5 h (195 +/- 25 vs. control: 237 +/- 26 mM; P < 0.01). Therefore in contrast to the originally postulated mechanism in which free fatty acids were thought to inhibit insulin-stimulated glucose uptake in muscle through initial inhibition of pyruvate dehydrogenase these results demonstrate that free fatty acids induce insulin resistance in humans by initial inhibition of glucose transport/phosphorylation which is then followed by an approximately 50% reduction in both the rate of muscle glycogen synthesis and glucose oxidation.

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