The fatty acid transporter FAT/CD36 is upregulated in subcutaneous and visceral adipose tissues in human obesity and type 2 diabetes

Int J Obes (Lond). 2006 Jun;30(6):877-83. doi: 10.1038/sj.ijo.0803212.


Background: Long-chain fatty acids (LCFAs) cross the plasma membrane via a protein-mediated mechanism involving one or more LCFA-binding proteins. Among these, FAT/CD36 has been identified as key LCFA transporter in the heart and skeletal muscle, where it is regulated acutely and chronically by insulin. In skeletal muscle, FAT/CD36 expression and/or subcellular distribution is altered in obesity and type 2 diabetes. There is limited information as to whether the expression of this protein is also altered in subcutaneous and/or visceral adipose tissue depots in human obesity or type 2 diabetes.

Objectives: To compare (a) the expression of FAT/CD36 in subcutaneous and visceral adipose tissue depots in lean, overweight, and obese individuals and in type 2 diabetics, (b) to determine whether the protein expression of FAT/CD36 in these depots is associated with the severity of insulin resistance (type 2 diabetes>obese>overweight/lean) and (c) whether FAT/CD36 protein expression in these adipose tissue depots is associated with alterations in circulating substrates and hormones.

Subjects: Subjects who were undergoing abdominal surgery and who were lean (n=10; three men, seven women), overweight (n=10; three men, seven women) or obese (n=7; one man, six women), or who had been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes (n=5; one man, four women) participated in this study.

Measurements: Subcutaneous and visceral adipose tissue samples, as well as blood samples, were obtained from the subjects while under general anesthesia. Adipose tissue samples were analyzed for FAT/CD36 using Western blotting. Serum samples were analyzed for glucose, insulin, FFA and leptin. BMI was also calculated.

Results: Subcutaneous adipose tissue FAT/CD36 expression was upregulated by +58, +76 and +150% in overweight, obese and type 2 diabetics, respectively. Relative to subcutaneous adipose tissue, visceral adipose tissue FAT/CD36 expression was upregulated in lean (+52%) and overweight subjects (+30%). In contrast, in obese subjects and type 2 diabetics, no difference in FAT/CD36 protein expression was observed between their subcutaneous and visceral adipose tissue depots (P>0.05). The subcutaneous adipose tissue FAT/CD36 expression (R=0.85) and the visceral adipose tissue FAT/CD36 expression (R=0.77) were associated with alteration in BMI and circulating glucose and insulin.

Conclusions: Subcutaneous adipose tissue FAT/CD36 expression is upregulated in obesity and type 2 diabetes. As FAT/CD36 expression is not different in lean, overweight and obese subjects, and was only increased in type 2 diabetics, it appears that visceral adipose tissue FAT/CD36 may respond in a less dynamic manner to metabolic disturbances than subcutaneous adipose tissue FAT/CD36.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anthropometry
  • Blood Glucose / analysis
  • Body Mass Index
  • CD36 Antigens / metabolism*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / blood
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / metabolism*
  • Fatty Acids, Nonesterified / blood
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Insulin / blood
  • Intra-Abdominal Fat / metabolism*
  • Leptin / blood
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / blood
  • Obesity / metabolism*
  • Overweight / physiology
  • Subcutaneous Fat / metabolism*


  • Blood Glucose
  • CD36 Antigens
  • Fatty Acids, Nonesterified
  • Insulin
  • Leptin