The fatty liver and insulin resistance

Curr Mol Med. 2005 May;5(3):287-95. doi: 10.2174/1566524053766031.


Obesity is not necessary to observe insulin resistance in humans since severe insulin resistance also characterizes patients lacking subcutaneous fat such as those with HAART (highly-active antiretroviral therapy) - associated lipodystrophy. Both the obese and the lipodystrophic patients have, however, an increase in the amount of fat hidden in the liver. Liver fat content can be non-invasively accurately quantified by proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy. It is closely correlated with fasting insulin and direct measures of hepatic insulin sensitivity while the amount of subcutaneous adipose tissue is not. The causes of interindividual variation in liver fat content independent of obesity are largely unknown but could involve differences in signals from adipose tissue such as in the amount of adiponectin produced and differences in fat intake. Adiponectin deficiency characterizes both lipodystrophic and obese insulin resistant individuals, and serum levels correlate with liver fat content. Liver fat content can be decreased by weight loss. In addition, treatment of both lipodystrophic and type 2 diabetic patients with PPARgamma agonists but not metformin decreases liver fat and increases adiponectin levels. Markers of liver fat such as serum alanine aminotransferase activity have been shown to predict type 2 diabetes in several studies independent of obesity. The fatty liver thus may help to explain why some but not all obese individuals are insulin resistant and why even lean individuals may be insulin resistant, and thereby at risk of developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adiponectin
  • Adipose Tissue
  • Alanine Transaminase / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Antiretroviral Therapy, Highly Active / adverse effects
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / metabolism
  • Diabetes Complications / pathology
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Fatty Liver / pathology*
  • Glucose / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Insulin / metabolism
  • Insulin Resistance*
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins / metabolism
  • Lipodystrophy / metabolism
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy / methods
  • Metformin / metabolism
  • Obesity / pathology


  • Adiponectin
  • Insulin
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins
  • Metformin
  • Alanine Transaminase
  • Glucose