Mitogen activated protein kinases (MAPKs), such as c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) and P38, have been reported to play important roles in energy homeostasis. In this study, we show that the activity of extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) is increased in the livers of diet induced and genetically obese mice. Activation of ERK in the livers of lean mice by over-expressing the constitutively active MAPK kinase 1 (MEK CA) results in decreased energy expenditure, lowered expression of genes involved in fatty acid oxidation, increases fasting hyperglycemia and causes systemic insulin resistance. Interestingly, hepatic glycogen content is markedly increased and expression of G6Pase gene is decreased in mice over-expressing MEK CA compared to control mice expressing green fluorescent protein (GFP), therefore hepatic glucose output is not likely the major contributor of hyperglycemia. One potential mechanism of decreased expression of G6Pase gene by MEK CA is likely due to ERK mediated phosphorylation and cytosolic retention of FOXO1. Adipocytes isolated from MEK CA mice display increased lipolysis. Circulating levels of free fatty acids (FFAs) in these mice are also increased, which possibly contribute to systemic insulin resistance and subsequent hyperglycemia. Consistent with these results, knocking down ERK expression in the liver of diet induced obese (DIO) mice improves systemic insulin and glucose tolerance. These results indicate that increased hepatic ERK activity in DIO mice may contribute to increased liver glycogen content and decreased energy expenditure in obesity.
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