The role of adipose cell size and adipose tissue insulin sensitivity in the carbohydrate intolerance of human obesity

J Clin Invest. 1968 Jan;47(1):153-65. doi: 10.1172/JCI105705.


Glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity of isolated human adipose tissue was studied as a function of adipose cell size and number. Glucose metabolism by these tissues was closely related to the number of cells in the fragment, irrespective of cell size. Adipose cells of obese individuals metabolized glucose to carbon dioxide and triglyceride at rates similar to adipose cells of nonobese subjects. In contrast, insulin responsiveness of adipose tissue was dependent upon adipose cell size. The larger its adipose cells the less insulin sensitive was the tissue. Thus, adipose tissue of obese subjects, with enlarged cells, showed a diminished response to insulin. After weight loss and reduction in adipose cell size, insulin sensitivity of the adipose tissue of obese patients was restored to normal. When adipose tissue of obese individuals showed impaired responsiveness to insulin, their plasma insulin levels, after oral glucose, were elevated. Weight loss and reduction in adipose cell size restored plasma insulin concentration to normal, concomitant with the return of normal tissue insulin sensitivity.