Adipose Cell Size and Regional Fat Deposition as Predictors of Metabolic Response to Overfeeding in Insulin-Resistant and Insulin-Sensitive Humans

Diabetes. 2016 May;65(5):1245-54. doi: 10.2337/db15-1213. Epub 2016 Feb 16.


Obesity is associated with insulin resistance, but significant variability exists between similarly obese individuals, pointing to qualitative characteristics of body fat as potential mediators. To test the hypothesis that obese, insulin-sensitive (IS) individuals possess adaptive adipose cell/tissue responses, we measured subcutaneous adipose cell size, insulin suppression of lipolysis, and regional fat responses to short-term overfeeding in BMI-matched overweight/obese individuals classified as IS or insulin resistant (IR). At baseline, IR subjects exhibited significantly greater visceral adipose tissue (VAT), intrahepatic lipid (IHL), plasma free fatty acids, adipose cell diameter, and percentage of small adipose cells. With weight gain (3.1 ± 1.4 kg), IR subjects demonstrated no significant change in adipose cell size, VAT, or insulin suppression of lipolysis and only 8% worsening of insulin-mediated glucose uptake (IMGU). Alternatively, IS subjects demonstrated significant adipose cell enlargement; decrease in the percentage of small adipose cells; increase in VAT, IHL, and lipolysis; 45% worsening of IMGU; and decreased expression of lipid metabolism genes. Smaller baseline adipose cell size and greater enlargement with weight gain predicted decline in IMGU, as did increase in IHL and VAT and decrease in insulin suppression of lipolysis. Weight gain in IS humans causes maladaptive changes in adipose cells, regional fat distribution, and insulin resistance. The correlation between development of insulin resistance and changes in adipose cell size, VAT, IHL, and insulin suppression of lipolysis highlight these factors as potential mediators between obesity and insulin resistance.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adiposity*
  • Adult
  • Body Mass Index
  • Cell Size / drug effects
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Enzymologic
  • Humans
  • Hyperphagia / metabolism
  • Hyperphagia / pathology*
  • Hyperphagia / physiopathology
  • Hypoglycemic Agents / pharmacology
  • Insulin / pharmacology
  • Insulin Resistance*
  • Intra-Abdominal Fat / drug effects
  • Intra-Abdominal Fat / metabolism
  • Intra-Abdominal Fat / pathology*
  • Lipid Metabolism / drug effects
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Liver / pathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Biological*
  • Obesity / etiology
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Obesity / pathology
  • Overweight / etiology
  • Overweight / metabolism
  • Overweight / pathology*
  • Subcutaneous Fat / drug effects
  • Subcutaneous Fat / metabolism
  • Subcutaneous Fat / pathology*
  • Weight Gain


  • Hypoglycemic Agents
  • Insulin