The perfect storm: obesity, adipocyte dysfunction, and metabolic consequences

Clin Chem. 2008 Jun;54(6):945-55. doi: 10.1373/clinchem.2007.100156. Epub 2008 Apr 24.


Background: As the prevalence of adiposity soars in both developed and developing nations, appreciation of the close links between obesity and disease increases. The strong relationships between excess adipose tissue and poor health outcomes, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer, mandate elucidation of the complex cellular, hormonal, and molecular pathophysiology whereby adiposity initiates and maintains adverse health effects.

Content: In this report we review adipocyte metabolism and function in the context of energy imbalance and postprandial nutrient excess, including adipocyte hypertrophy and hyperplasia, adipocyte dysfunction, and other systemic consequences. We also discuss implications for laboratory evaluation and clinical care, including the role of lifestyle modifications. Chronic energy imbalance produces adipocyte hypertrophy and hyperplasia, endoplasmic reticulum stress, and mitochondrial dysfunction. These processes lead to increased intracellular and systemic release of adipokines, free fatty acids, and inflammatory mediators that cause adipocyte dysfunction and induce adverse effects in the liver, pancreatic beta-cells, and skeletal muscle as well as the heart and vascular beds. Several specialized laboratory tests can quantify these processes and predict clinical risk, but translation to the clinical setting is premature. Current and future pharmacologic interventions may target these pathways; modest changes in diet, physical activity, weight, and smoking are likely to have the greatest impact.

Summary: Adipocyte endoplasmic reticulum and mitochondrial stress, and associated changes in circulating adipokines, free fatty acids, and inflammatory mediators, are central to adverse health effects of adiposity. Future investigation should focus on these pathways and on reversing the adverse lifestyle behaviors that are the fundamental causes of adiposity.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adipocytes / metabolism
  • Adipocytes / pathology
  • Adipocytes / physiology*
  • Adipokines / blood
  • Adiposity*
  • Animals
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Cell Size
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum / physiology
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Fatty Acids, Nonesterified / blood
  • Humans
  • Inflammation Mediators / blood
  • Insulin Resistance
  • Life Style
  • Lipid Metabolism
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Obesity / metabolism*
  • Obesity / pathology
  • Obesity / prevention & control
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Postprandial Period


  • Adipokines
  • Fatty Acids, Nonesterified
  • Inflammation Mediators