Purpose of review: Over 20 years ago, insulin resistance was postulated to play a central role in the pathogenesis of the metabolic syndrome. However, this has been difficult to prove, leading to a great deal of controversy within the field. Recent studies on mice and humans with genetic defects in insulin signaling have allowed us, for the first time, to dissect which features of the metabolic syndrome can be caused by insulin resistance.
Recent findings: Liver insulin receptor knockout mice show that hepatic insulin resistance can produce hyperglycemia, increased apolipoprotein B secretion and atherosclerosis, and increased biliary cholesterol secretion and cholesterol gallstones. Many of these changes may be due to disinhibition of the transcription factor, forkhead box O1. Yet, neither liver insulin receptor knockout mice nor humans with insulin receptor mutations develop the hypertriglyceridemia or hepatic steatosis associated with the metabolic syndrome.
Summary: These data point to a central role for insulin resistance in the pathogenesis of the metabolic syndrome, as hyperglycemia, atherosclerosis, and cholesterol gallstones can all be caused by insulin resistance. However, hypertriglyceridemia and hepatic steatosis are not due directly to insulin resistance and should be considered pathogenically distinct features of the metabolic syndrome.