The Portal Theory Supported by Venous Drainage–Selective Fat Transplantation

  1. Daniel Konrad1,2
  1. 1Division of Pediatric Endocrinology and Diabetology, University Children's Hospital, Zurich, Switzerland;
  2. 2Zurich Center for Integrative Human Physiology, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland.
  1. Corresponding author: Daniel Konrad, daniel.konrad{at}


OBJECTIVE The “portal hypothesis” proposes that the liver is directly exposed to free fatty acids and cytokines increasingly released from visceral fat tissue into the portal vein of obese subjects, thus rendering visceral fat accumulation particularly hazardous for the development of hepatic insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. In the present study, we used a fat transplantation paradigm to (artificially) increase intra-abdominal fat mass to test the hypothesis that venous drainage of fat tissue determines its impact on glucose homeostasis.

RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODS Epididymal fat pads of C57Bl6/J donor mice were transplanted into littermates, either to the parietal peritoneum (caval/systemic venous drainage) or, by using a novel approach, to the mesenterium, which confers portal venous drainage.

RESULTS Only mice receiving the portal drained fat transplant developed impaired glucose tolerance and hepatic insulin resistance. mRNA expression of proinflammatory cytokines was increased in both portally and systemically transplanted fat pads. However, portal vein (but not systemic) plasma levels of interleukin (IL)-6 were elevated only in mice receiving a portal fat transplant. Intriguingly, mice receiving portal drained transplants from IL-6 knockout mice showed normal glucose tolerance.

CONCLUSIONS These results demonstrate that the metabolic fate of intra-abdominal fat tissue transplantation is determined by the delivery of inflammatory cytokines to the liver specifically via the portal system, providing direct evidence in support of the portal hypothesis.


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  • Received May 15, 2010.
  • Accepted October 7, 2010.

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