The role of skeletal muscle sphingolipids in the development of insulin resistance

Rev Diabet Stud. Spring 2008;5(1):13-24. doi: 10.1900/RDS.2008.5.13. Epub 2008 May 10.


Insulin resistance is an important risk factor for type 2 diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, polycystic ovary syndrome and other diseases. The most important stage in the development of insulin resistance is impairment of insulin-stimulated skeletal muscle glucose uptake. There is evidence that intramyocellular lipids might be responsible for this process through inhibition of insulin signaling. One of the important intracellular lipid pools is associated with the sphingomyelin signaling pathway. The second messenger in this pathway is ceramide. In vitro data indicate that ceramide inhibits insulin signaling, mainly through inactivation of protein kinase B. In vivo data suggest that ceramide accumulation within muscle cells might be associated with the development of insulin resistance. In this review, we discuss both in vitro and in vivo evidence for the role of muscle ceramide in the impairment of insulin action with particular focus on the question whether findings from animal studies are applicable to humans. We describe problems that are unresolved so far and topics of potential interest for future research.