The two faces of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in adipocyte function and dysfunction

Biol Chem. 2016 Aug 1;397(8):709-24. doi: 10.1515/hsz-2015-0305.


White adipose tissue (WAT) is actively involved in the regulation of whole-body energy homeostasis via storage/release of lipids and adipokine secretion. Current research links WAT dysfunction to the development of metabolic syndrome (MetS) and type 2 diabetes (T2D). The expansion of WAT during oversupply of nutrients prevents ectopic fat accumulation and requires proper preadipocyte-to-adipocyte differentiation. An assumed link between excess levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS), WAT dysfunction and T2D has been discussed controversially. While oxidative stress conditions have conclusively been detected in WAT of T2D patients and related animal models, clinical trials with antioxidants failed to prevent T2D or to improve glucose homeostasis. Furthermore, animal studies yielded inconsistent results regarding the role of oxidative stress in the development of diabetes. Here, we discuss the contribution of ROS to the (patho)physiology of adipocyte function and differentiation, with particular emphasis on sources and nutritional modulators of adipocyte ROS and their functions in signaling mechanisms controlling adipogenesis and functions of mature fat cells. We propose a concept of ROS balance that is required for normal functioning of WAT. We explain how both excessive and diminished levels of ROS, e.g. resulting from over supplementation with antioxidants, contribute to WAT dysfunction and subsequently insulin resistance.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adipocytes / metabolism*
  • Adipocytes / pathology*
  • Animals
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / metabolism
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / pathology
  • Humans
  • Insulin Resistance*
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism*


  • Reactive Oxygen Species