Free fatty acids inhibit insulin signaling-stimulated endothelial nitric oxide synthase activation through upregulating PTEN or inhibiting Akt kinase

Diabetes. 2006 Aug;55(8):2301-10. doi: 10.2337/db05-1574.


In metabolic syndrome, a systemic deregulation of the insulin pathway leads to a combined deregulation of insulin-regulated metabolism and cardiovascular functions. Free fatty acids (FFAs), which are increased in metabolic syndrome, inhibit insulin signaling and induce metabolic insulin resistance. This study was designed to examine FFAs' effects on vascular insulin signaling and endothelial nitric oxide (NO) synthase (eNOS) activation in endothelial cells. We showed that FFAs inhibited insulin signaling and eNOS activation through different mechanisms. While linoleic acid inhibited Akt-mediated eNOS phosphorylation, palmitic acid appeared to affect the upstream signaling. Upregulation of PTEN (phosphatase and tensin homolog deleted on chromosome 10) activity and transcription by palmitic acid mediated the inhibitory effects on insulin signaling. We further found that activated stress signaling p38, but not Jun NH(2)-terminal kinase, was involved in PTEN upregulation. The p38 target transcriptional factor activating transcription factor (ATF)-2 bound to the PTEN promoter, which was increased by palmitic acid treatment. In summary, both palmitic acid and linoleic acid exert inhibitory effect on insulin signaling and eNOS activation in endothelial cells. Palmitic acid inhibits insulin signaling by promoting PTEN activity and its transcription through p38 and its downstream transcription factor ATF-2. Our findings suggest that FFA-mediated inhibition of vascular insulin signaling and eNOS activation may contribute to cardiovascular diseases in metabolic syndrome.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Activating Transcription Factor 2 / physiology
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Endothelial Cells / drug effects*
  • Endothelial Cells / physiology
  • Enzyme Activation / drug effects
  • Fatty Acids, Nonesterified / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Insulin / metabolism*
  • JNK Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases / metabolism
  • Linoleic Acid / pharmacology
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase Type III / metabolism*
  • PTEN Phosphohydrolase / genetics*
  • PTEN Phosphohydrolase / physiology
  • Palmitic Acid / pharmacology
  • Phosphorylation
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • RNA, Messenger / analysis
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • Up-Regulation / drug effects
  • p38 Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases / metabolism


  • ATF2 protein, human
  • Activating Transcription Factor 2
  • Fatty Acids, Nonesterified
  • Insulin
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Palmitic Acid
  • Linoleic Acid
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase Type III
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt
  • JNK Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases
  • p38 Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases
  • PTEN Phosphohydrolase
  • PTEN protein, human