From chronic overnutrition to insulin resistance: the role of fat-storing capacity and inflammation

Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2009 Feb;19(2):146-52. doi: 10.1016/j.numecd.2008.10.010. Epub 2009 Jan 25.


Aims: We analyze how the inflammatory state in adipose tissue caused by a condition of chronically positive energy balance can lead to insulin resistance first in adipose tissue, then in all insulin-sensitive tissues.

Data synthesis: Chronic nutrient overload causes an increase in adipose depots that, if adipose tissue expandability is low, are characterized by an increased presence of hypertrophic adipocytes. This adipocyte hypertrophy is a possible stress condition for the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) that would lead to a proinflammatory state in adipose tissue. In this condition, ER stress would activate metabolic pathways that trigger insulin resistance, release of macrophage chemoattractant proteins, and in chronic inflammation, the death of the hypertrophic adipocyte. The infiltrated macrophages in turn release inflammatory proteins causing further recruitment of macrophages to adipose tissue and the release of inflammatory cytokines. Following these events, insulin resistance becomes extended to all adipose tissue. Insulin-resistant adipocytes, characterized by low liposynthetic capacity and high lipolytic capacity, cause increased release of free fatty acids (FFA). FFA released by lipolitic adipocytes may also activate Toll-like receptors 4 and then chemokines and cytokines release amplifying insulin resistance, lipolysis and inflammation in all adipose tissue. Moreover, increased circulating FFA levels, reduced circulating adiponectin levels and leptin resistance lead to decreased lipid oxidation in non-adipose tissues, thereby triggering ectopic accumulation of lipids, lipotoxicity and insulin resistance.

Conclusion: All the conditions that increase circulating fatty acids and cause lipid overloading (obesity, lipoatrophy, lipodystrophy, catabolic states, etc.) induce a lipotoxic state in non-adipose tissues that gives rise to insulin resistance.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / metabolism*
  • Adipose Tissue / pathology
  • Adipose Tissue / physiopathology
  • Adiposity
  • Animals
  • Chronic Disease
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum / metabolism
  • Fatty Acids / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hypertrophy
  • Inflammation / etiology*
  • Inflammation / physiopathology
  • Inflammation Mediators / metabolism*
  • Insulin Resistance*
  • Overnutrition / complications*
  • Overnutrition / metabolism
  • Overnutrition / physiopathology
  • Signal Transduction
  • Stress, Physiological


  • Fatty Acids
  • Inflammation Mediators