Regulation of fat storage via suppressed thermogenesis: a thrifty phenotype that predisposes individuals with catch-up growth to insulin resistance and obesity

Horm Res. 2006;65 Suppl 3:90-7. doi: 10.1159/000091512. Epub 2006 Apr 10.


Catch-up growth during infancy and childhood is increasingly recognized as a major risk factor for later development of insulin-related complications and chronic diseases, namely abdominal obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. As catch-up growth per se is characterized by insulin resistance, hyperinsulinaemia and an accelerated rate of fat storage (i.e., catch-up fat) even in the absence of hyperphagia, the possibility arises that suppressed thermogenesis in certain organs/tissues - for the purpose of enhancing the efficiency of catch-up fat - also plays a role in the pathophysiological consequences of catch-up growth. Here, the evidence for the existence of an adipose-specific control of thermogenesis, the suppression of which contributes to catch-up fat, is reviewed. Recent findings suggest that such suppression of thermogenesis is accompanied by hyperinsulinaemia, insulin resistance in skeletal muscle and insulin hyperresponsiveness in adipose tissue, all of which precede the appearance of excess body fat, central fat distribution and elevations in intramyocellular triglyceride or circulating lipid concentrations. These findings underscore a role for suppressed thermogenesis per se as an early event in the pathophysiology of catch-up growth. It is proposed that, in its evolutionary adaptive role to spare glucose for the rapid rebuilding of an adequate fat reserve (for optimal survival capacity during intermittent famine), suppressed thermogenesis in skeletal muscle constitutes a thrifty phenotype that confers to the phase of catch-up growth its high sensitivity to the development of insulin resistance and hyperinsulinaemia. In the context of the complex interactions between earlier reprogramming and a modern lifestyle characterized by nutritional abundance and low physical activity, this thrifty 'catch-up fat phenotype' is a central event that predisposes individuals with catch-up growth to abdominal obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / physiopathology
  • Glucose / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Infant, Low Birth Weight / growth & development*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Insulin Resistance / physiology*
  • Lipid Metabolism*
  • Metabolic Syndrome / physiopathology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / metabolism
  • Phenotype
  • Thermogenesis / physiology*


  • Glucose