Reflecting or Inflicting Insulin Resistance?

  1. Maarten R. Soeters1
  1. 1Department of Endocrinology and Metabolism, Academic Medical Center, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
  2. 2Department of Clinical Chemistry, Laboratory Genetic Metabolic Diseases, Academic Medical Center, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
  3. 3Department of Pediatrics, Emma Children’s Hospital, Academic Medical Center, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
  1. Corresponding author: Maarten R. Soeters, m.r.soeters{at}

The incidence of obesity and insulin resistance is growing, and the increase in type 2 diabetes mellitus (DM2) constitutes one of the biggest challenges for our healthcare systems. Many theories are proposed for the induction of insulin resistance in glucose and lipid metabolism and its metabolic sequelae. One of these mechanisms is lipotoxicity (14): excess lipid supply and subsequent lipid accumulation in insulin-sensitive tissues such as skeletal muscle interfere with insulin-responsive metabolic pathways. Various lipid intermediates, like ceramides, gangliosides, diacylglycerol, and other metabolites, have been held responsible for insulin resistance (2,3,510). These intermediates can exert such effects because they are signaling molecules and building blocks of cellular membranes, which harbor the insulin receptor. In addition, lipids play an important role in energy homeostasis. Fatty acids (FA) can be metabolized via mitochondrial FA oxidation (FAO), which yields energy (11). As such, FAO competes with glucose oxidation in a process known as the glucose-FA, or Randle, cycle (12).

Muoio and colleagues (1,13,14) proposed an alternative mechanism in which FAO rate outpaces the tricarboxylic acid cycle (TCA), thereby leading to the accumulation of intermediary metabolites such as acylcarnitines that may interfere with insulin sensitivity. This accumulation of acylcarnitines corroborates with some human studies showing that acylcarnitines are associated with insulin resistance (1517). In addition, acylcarnitines have a long history in the diagnosis and neonatal screening of FAO defects and other inborn errors of metabolism (18). This knowledge may aid to understand the interaction between FAO and insulin resistance and fuel future research. In this review, we discuss the role of acylcarnitines in FAO and insulin resistance as emerging from animal and human studies.


Carnitine biosynthesis and regulation of tissue carnitine content.

To guarantee continuous energy supply, the human body oxidizes considerable amounts of fat besides glucose. …

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