Both linoleic and α-linolenic acid prevent insulin resistance but have divergent impacts on skeletal muscle mitochondrial bioenergetics in obese Zucker rats

Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2014 Jul 1;307(1):E102-14. doi: 10.1152/ajpendo.00032.2014. Epub 2014 May 20.


The therapeutic use of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) in preserving insulin sensitivity has gained interest in recent decades; however, the roles of linoleic acid (LA) and α-linolenic acid (ALA) remain poorly understood. We investigated the efficacy of diets enriched with either LA or ALA on attenuating the development of insulin resistance (IR) in obesity. Following a 12-wk intervention, LA and ALA both prevented the shift toward an IR phenotype and maintained muscle-specific insulin sensitivity otherwise lost in obese control animals. The beneficial effects of ALA were independent of changes in skeletal muscle mitochondrial content and oxidative capacity, as obese control and ALA-treated rats showed similar increases in these parameters. However, ALA increased the propensity for mitochondrial H2O2 emission and catalase content within whole muscle and reduced markers of oxidative stress (4-HNE and protein carbonylation). In contrast, LA prevented changes in markers of mitochondrial content, respiratory function, H2O2 emission, and oxidative stress in obese animals, thereby resembling levels seen in lean animals. Together, our data suggest that LA and ALA are efficacious in preventing IR but have divergent impacts on skeletal muscle mitochondrial content and function. Moreover, we propose that LA has value in preserving insulin sensitivity in the development of obesity, thereby challenging the classical view that n-6 PUFAs are detrimental.

Keywords: insulin resistance; linoleic acid; mitochondria; polyunsaturated fatty acids; α-linoleic acid.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Animals
  • Cell Respiration / drug effects
  • Energy Metabolism / drug effects*
  • Hydrogen Peroxide / metabolism*
  • Insulin Resistance*
  • Male
  • Mitochondria, Muscle / drug effects
  • Mitochondria, Muscle / metabolism*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / drug effects
  • Muscle, Skeletal / metabolism*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / ultrastructure
  • Obesity / metabolism*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Zucker
  • alpha-Linolenic Acid / administration & dosage*


  • alpha-Linolenic Acid
  • Hydrogen Peroxide