Novel and Reversible Mechanisms of Smoking-Induced Insulin Resistance in Humans

  1. Robert H. Eckel
  1. Department of Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism, University of Colorado Denver, Denver, Colorado
  1. Corresponding author: Bryan C. Bergman, bryan.bergman{at}


Smoking is the most common cause of preventable morbidity and mortality in the United States, in part because it is an independent risk factor for the development of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. However, mechanisms responsible for smoking-induced insulin resistance are unclear. In this study, we found smokers were less insulin-sensitive compared with controls, which increased after either 1 or 2 weeks of smoking cessation. Improvements in insulin sensitivity after smoking cessation occurred with normalization of IRS-1ser636 phosphorylation. In muscle cell culture, nicotine exposure significantly increased IRS-1ser636 phosphorylation and decreased insulin sensitivity, recapitulating the phenotype of smoking-induced insulin resistance in humans. The two pathways known to stimulate IRS-1ser636 phosphorylation (p44/42 mitogen-activated protein kinase [MAPK] and mammalian target of rapamycin [mTOR]) were both stimulated by nicotine in culture. Inhibition of mTOR, but not p44/42 MAPK, during nicotine exposure prevented IRS-1ser636 phosphorylation and normalized insulin sensitivity. These data indicate nicotine induces insulin resistance in skeletal muscle by activating mTOR. Therapeutic agents designed to oppose skeletal muscle mTOR activation may prevent insulin resistance in humans who are unable to stop smoking or are chronically exposed to secondhand smoke.

  • Received April 3, 2012.
  • Accepted July 3, 2012.

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