Aims/hypothesis: Extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) activity is increased in adipose tissue in obesity and type 2 diabetes mellitus and strong evidences suggests that it is implicated in the downregulation of insulin signalling and action in the insulin-resistant state. To determine the role of ERK1 in obesity-associated insulin resistance in vivo, we inactivated Erk1 (also known as Mapk3) in obese leptin-deficient mice (ob/ob).
Methods: Mice of genotype ob/ob-Erk1⁻(/)⁻ were obtained by crossing Erk1⁻(/)⁻ mice with ob/ob mice. Glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity were studied in 12-week-old mice. Tissue-specific insulin sensitivity, insulin signalling, liver steatosis and adipose tissue inflammation were determined.
Results: While ob/ob-Erk1⁻(/)⁻ and ob/ob mice exhibited comparable body weight and adiposity, ob/ob-Erk1⁻(/)⁻ mice did not develop hyperglycaemia and their glucose tolerance was improved. Hyperinsulinaemic-euglycaemic clamp studies demonstrated an increase in whole-body insulin sensitivity in the ob/ob-Erk1⁻(/)⁻ mice associated with an increase in both insulin-stimulated glucose disposal in skeletal muscles and adipose tissue insulin sensitivity. This occurred in parallel with improved insulin signalling in both tissues. The ob/ob-Erk1⁻(/)⁻ mice were also partially protected against hepatic steatosis with a strong reduction in acetyl-CoA carboxylase level. These metabolic improvements were associated with reduced expression of mRNA encoding inflammatory cytokine and T lymphocyte markers in the adipose tissue.
Conclusions/interpretation: Our results demonstrate that the targeting of ERK1 could partially protect obese mice against insulin resistance and liver steatosis by decreasing adipose tissue inflammation and by increasing muscle glucose uptake. Our results indicate that deregulation of the ERK1 pathway could be an important component in obesity-associated metabolic disorders.