Enhancement of Muscle Mitochondrial Oxidative Capacity and Alterations in Insulin Action Are Lipid Species Dependent

Potent Tissue-Specific Effects of Medium-Chain Fatty Acids

  1. Ji-Ming Ye1,4
  1. 1Diabetes and Obesity Research Program, Garvan Institute of Medical Research, Darlinghurst, NSW, Australia;
  2. 2St. Vincent's Hospital Clinical School, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW, Australia;
  3. 3Shanghai Institute of Materia Medica, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Shanghai, China;
  4. 4School of Medical Sciences, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW, Australia.
  1. Corresponding author: Nigel Turner, n.turner{at}


OBJECTIVE Medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs) have been reported to be less obesogenic than long-chain fatty acids (LCFAs); however, relatively little is known regarding their effect on insulin action. Here, we examined the tissue-specific effects of MCFAs on lipid metabolism and insulin action.

RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODS C57BL6/J mice and Wistar rats were fed either a low-fat control diet or high-fat diets rich in MCFAs or LCFAs for 4–5 weeks, and markers of mitochondrial oxidative capacity, lipid levels, and insulin action were measured.

RESULTS Mice fed the MCFA diet displayed reduced adiposity and better glucose tolerance than LCFA-fed animals. In skeletal muscle, triglyceride levels were increased by the LCFA diet (77%, P < 0.01) but remained at low-fat diet control levels in the MCFA-fed animals. The LCFA diet increased (20–50%, P < 0.05) markers of mitochondrial metabolism in muscle compared with low-fat diet–fed controls; however; the increase in oxidative capacity was substantially greater in MCFA-fed animals (50–140% versus low-fat–fed controls, P < 0.01). The MCFA diet induced a greater accumulation of liver triglycerides than the LCFA diet, likely due to an upregulation of several lipogenic enzymes. In rats, isocaloric feeding of MCFA or LCFA high-fat diets induced hepatic insulin resistance to a similar degree; however, insulin action was preserved at the level of low-fat diet–fed controls in muscle and adipose from MCFA-fed animals.

CONCLUSIONS MCFAs reduce adiposity and preserve insulin action in muscle and adipose, despite inducing steatosis and insulin resistance in the liver. Dietary supplementation with MCFAs may therefore be beneficial for preventing obesity and peripheral insulin resistance.


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  • Received May 26, 2009.
  • Accepted August 4, 2009.

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  1. Diabetes vol. 58 no. 11 2547-2554
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