Circulating levels of TNF-α are associated with impaired glucose tolerance, increased insulin resistance, and ethnicity: the Insulin Resistance Atherosclerosis Study

J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2012 Mar;97(3):1032-40. doi: 10.1210/jc.2011-2155. Epub 2012 Jan 11.


Objective: Although several epidemiological studies have investigated associations between TNF-α and insulin resistance, results have been inconsistent. We studied the relationship between TNF-α and glucose tolerance status as part of the Insulin Resistance Atherosclerosis Study.

Research design and methods: Serum concentrations of TNF-α were measured in 1558 individuals in a triethnic population across a spectrum of glucose tolerance. Insulin sensitivity and insulin secretion were assessed by a frequently sampled iv glucose tolerance test (FSIGT).

Results: Compared with those with normal glucose tolerance, circulating levels of TNF-α were elevated in individuals with impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) and type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2D) after adjusting for age, gender, ethnicity, clinic site, and body mass index (3.3, 3.5, and 3.7 pg/ml in subjects with normal glucose tolerance, IGT, and T2D, respectively; P<0.05). Age-, sex-, and body mass index-adjusted levels of TNF-α differed by ethnicity, with Hispanics having the highest levels and African-Americans having the lowest (4.1, 3.6, and 3.0 pg/ml in Hispanics, non-Hispanic whites, and African-Americans, respectively; P<0.05). TNF-α was correlated with waist circumference, high-density lipoprotein, triglycerides, plasminogen activator inhibitor-1 and insulin sensitivity index (SI) (r=0.22, -0.30, 0.35, 0.31, and -0.25; P<0.0001); however, correlations varied by ethnicity. After adjusting for demographics and adiposity, individuals characterized by increased insulin resistance (lower SI), had higher levels of TNF-α than subjects characterized by high insulin sensitivity (3.8 and 3.3 pg/ml in subjects with an SI below/above the median at baseline; P<0.0001). No differences were found for acute insulin response.

Conclusions: We confirm that TNF-α is associated with IGT and T2D in a large, multiethnic population, independent of measures of adiposity. Adjusted values of TNF-α, as well as relationships between TNF-α and variables related to T2D, varied by ethnicity. Increased TNF-α levels were predominantly associated with insulin resistance but not with primary defects in β-cell function.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • African Americans
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / blood*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / physiopathology
  • European Continental Ancestry Group
  • Female
  • Glucose Intolerance / blood*
  • Glucose Intolerance / physiopathology
  • Glucose Tolerance Test
  • Hispanic Americans
  • Humans
  • Insulin / metabolism*
  • Insulin Resistance / physiology*
  • Insulin Secretion
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / blood*


  • Insulin
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha