Insulin resistance in obesity as the underlying cause for the metabolic syndrome

Mt Sinai J Med. 2010 Sep-Oct;77(5):511-23. doi: 10.1002/msj.20212.


The metabolic syndrome affects more than a third of the US population, predisposing to the development of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The 2009 consensus statement from the International Diabetes Federation, American Heart Association, World Heart Federation, International Atherosclerosis Society, International Association for the Study of Obesity, and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute defines the metabolic syndrome as 3 of the following elements: abdominal obesity, elevated blood pressure, elevated triglycerides, low high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and hyperglycemia. Many factors contribute to this syndrome, including decreased physical activity, genetic predisposition, chronic inflammation, free fatty acids, and mitochondrial dysfunction. Insulin resistance appears to be the common link between these elements, obesity and the metabolic syndrome. In normal circumstances, insulin stimulates glucose uptake into skeletal muscle, inhibits hepatic gluconeogenesis, and decreases adipose-tissue lipolysis and hepatic production of very-low-density lipoproteins. Insulin signaling in the brain decreases appetite and prevents glucose production by the liver through neuronal signals from the hypothalamus. Insulin resistance, in contrast, leads to the release of free fatty acids from adipose tissue, increased hepatic production of very-low-density lipoproteins and decreased high-density lipoproteins. Increased production of free fatty acids, inflammatory cytokines, and adipokines and mitochondrial dysfunction contribute to impaired insulin signaling, decreased skeletal muscle glucose uptake, increased hepatic gluconeogenesis, and β cell dysfunction, leading to hyperglycemia. In addition, insulin resistance leads to the development of hypertension by impairing vasodilation induced by nitric oxide. In this review, we discuss normal insulin signaling and the mechanisms by which insulin resistance contributes to the development of the metabolic syndrome.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Insulin Resistance*
  • Metabolic Syndrome / etiology*
  • Metabolic Syndrome / metabolism
  • Obesity / complications*
  • Obesity / metabolism