Objective: Apolipoprotein E (apoE), a key protein in lipid metabolism, is highly expressed in adipose tissues. Studies have shown that human APOE*4 is associated with a lower body mass index but with a greater risk of coronary heart disease compared with other APOE alleles. To define the isoform-specific role of apoE in regulating the expandability and functionality of adipose tissues, we investigated the effects of diet-induced obesity in mice whose endogenous Apoe gene has been replaced by either the human APOE*3 or APOE*4 allele.
Results: After 8 weeks on a Western-type high-fat diet, male APOE4 mice displayed impaired tolerance to glucose and fat overload compared with APOE3 mice. Subcutaneous fat tissues in APOE4 and APOE3 mice after high fat feeding were not different. In contrast, although epididymal fat tissues in APOE4 mice gained 30% less weight during the high fat feeding than in APOE3 mice, they showed impaired insulin-stimulated glucose uptake ex vivo. Epididymal APOE4 adipocytes were larger in size than APOE3 adipocytes, and expressed reduced levels of mRNA for peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma2 and adiponectin, important markers of adipocyte functionality. Adenoviral expression of apoE3 in apoE-null culture adipocytes induced adiponectin mRNA in a dose-dependent manner, but the induction was significantly blunted in cells overexpressing apoE4. However, in contrast to the apoE3-expressing cells, Glut1, but not Glut4, expression levels were positively correlated with increased apoE4 mRNA, suggesting that apoE4 expression in adipocyte interferes in insulin-sensing pathways.
Conclusion: Dysfunctional epididymal adipose tissues contribute to the accelerated impairment of glucose tolerance in APOE4 mice fed a Western-type diet. Our results underscore the importance of functionality of individual fat depots rather than total fat mass as a determinant for metabolic disturbance during diet-induced obesity.