Genetics in endocrinology: genetic forms of severe insulin resistance: what endocrinologists should know

Eur J Endocrinol. 2013 Sep 12;169(4):R71-80. doi: 10.1530/EJE-13-0327. Print 2013 Oct.


'Insulin resistance' (IR) is a widely used clinical term. It is usually defined as a state characterised by reduced glucose-lowering activity of insulin, but it is also sometimes used as a shorthand label for a clinical syndrome encompassing major pathologies such as type 2 diabetes, polycystic ovary syndrome, fatty liver disease and atherosclerosis. Nevertheless, the precise cellular origins of IR, the causal links among these phenomena and the mechanisms underlying them remain poorly understood or contentious. Prevalent IR usually results from a genetic predisposition interacting with acquired obesity; however, even in some lean individuals, very severe degrees of IR can be observed. It is important to identify these people as they often harbour identifiable single-gene defects and they may benefit from molecular diagnosis, genetic counselling and sometimes tailored therapies. Observation of people with known single-gene defects also offers the opportunity to make inferences about the mechanistic links between IR and common pathologies. Herein, we summarise the currently known monogenic forms of severe IR, with an emphasis on the practical aspects of their recognition, diagnosis and management. In particular, we draw distinctions among the biochemical subphenotypes of IR that arise from primary adipose tissue dysfunction or from primary insulin signalling defects and discuss the implications of this dichotomy for management.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Endocrine System Diseases / genetics*
  • Endocrinology / methods*
  • Genetic Techniques*
  • Humans
  • Insulin Resistance / genetics*
  • Metabolic Diseases / genetics*
  • Severity of Illness Index