Obesity is characterized by increased storage of fatty acids in an expanded adipose tissue mass and is closely associated with the development of insulin resistance in peripheral tissues such as skeletal muscle and the liver. In addition to being the largest source of fuel in the body, adipose tissue and resident macrophages are also the source of a number of secreted proteins. Cloning of the obese gene and the identification of its product, leptin, was one of the first discoveries of an adipocyte-derived signaling molecule and established an important role for adipose tissue as an endocrine organ. Since then, leptin has been found to have a profound role in the regulation of whole-body metabolism by stimulating energy expenditure, inhibiting food intake and restoring euglycemia, however, in most cases of obesity leptin resistance limits its biological efficacy. In contrast to leptin, adiponectin secretion is often diminished in obesity. Adiponectin acts to increase insulin sensitivity, fatty acid oxidation, as well as energy expenditure and reduces the production of glucose by the liver. Resistin and retinol binding protein-4 are less well described. Their expression levels are positively correlated with adiposity and they are both implicated in the development of insulin resistance. More recently it has been acknowledged that macrophages are an important part of the secretory function of adipose tissue and the main source of inflammatory cyokines, such as TNFalpha and IL-6. An increase in circulating levels of these macrophage-derived factors in obesity leads to a chronic low-grade inflammatory state that has been linked to the development of insulin resistance and diabetes. These proteins commonly known as adipokines are central to the dynamic control of energy metabolism, communicating the nutrient status of the organism with the tissues responsible for controlling both energy intake and expenditure as well as insulin sensitivity.
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