Serum and adipose tissue amino acid homeostasis in the metabolically healthy obese

J Proteome Res. 2014 Jul 3;13(7):3455-66. doi: 10.1021/pr500416v. Epub 2014 Jun 23.


A subgroup of obese individuals, referred to as metabolically healthy obese (MHO), have preserved insulin sensitivity and a normal lipid profile despite being obese. The molecular basis for this improved cardiometabolic profile remains unclear. Our objective was to integrate metabolite and gene expression profiling to elucidate the molecular distinctions between MHO and metabolically unhealthy obese (MUO) phenotypes. A subset of individuals were selected from the Diabetes Risk Assessment study and classified into three groups using anthropometric and clinical measurements: lean healthy (LH), MHO, and MUO. Serum metabolites were profiled using gas chromatography coupled to mass spectrometry. Multivariate data analysis uncovered metabolites that differed between groups, and these were subsequently validated by capillary electrophoresis coupled to mass spectrometry. Subcutaneous adipose tissue (SAT) gene expression profiling using microarrays was performed in parallel. Amino acids were the most relevant class of metabolites distinguishing MHO from MUO individuals. Serum levels of glutamic acid, valine, and isoleucine were positively associated (i.e., LH < MHO < MUO) with homeostasis model assessment-insulin resistance (HOMA-IR) and glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c) values, while leucine was only correlated with HOMA-IR. The glutamine-to-glutamic acid ratio and glycine were inversely correlated (i.e., LH > MHO > MUO) with HbA1c values. Concomitantly, SAT gene expression profiling revealed that genes related to branched-chain amino acid catabolism and the tricarboxylic acid cycle were less down-regulated in MHO individuals compared to MUO individuals. Together, this integrated analysis revealed that MHO individuals have an intermediate amino acid homeostasis compared to LH and MUO individuals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Amino Acids, Branched-Chain / blood*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Homeostasis*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / blood*
  • Subcutaneous Fat / metabolism*


  • Amino Acids, Branched-Chain