Physiologic and genetic evidence links hemopexin to triglycerides in mice and humans

Int J Obes (Lond). 2017 Apr;41(4):631-638. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2017.19. Epub 2017 Jan 25.


Background/objectives: Elevated triglycerides predict insulin resistance and vascular disease in obesity, but how the inert triglyceride molecule is related to development of metabolic disease is unknown. To pursue novel potential mediators of triglyceride-associated metabolic disease, we used a forward genetics approach involving inbred mice and translated our findings to human subjects.

Subjects/methods: Hemopexin (HPX) was identified as a differentially expressed gene within a quantitative trait locus associated with serum triglycerides in an F16 advanced intercross between the LG/J and SM/J strains of mice. Hpx expression was evaluated in both the reproductive fat pads and livers of mice representing three strains, LG/J (n=25), SM/J (n=27) and C57Bl/6J (n=19), on high- and low-fat diets. The effect of altered Hpx expression on adipogenesis was studied in 3T3-L1 cells. Circulating HPX protein along with HPX expression were characterized in subcutaneous white adipose tissue samples obtained from a cohort of metabolically abnormal (n=18) and of metabolically normal (n=24) obese human subjects. We further examined the relationship between HPX and triglycerides in human atherosclerotic plaques (n=18).

Results: HPX expression in mouse adipose tissue, but not in liver, was regulated by dietary fat regardless of genetic background. HPX increased in concert with adipogenesis in 3T3-L1 cells, and disruption of its expression impaired adipocyte differentiation. RNAseq data from the adipose tissue of obese humans showed differential expression of HPX based on metabolic disease status (P<0.05), and circulating HPX levels were correlated with serum triglycerides in these subjects (r=0.33; P=0.03). HPX was also found in an unbiased proteomic screen of human atherosclerotic plaques and shown to display differential abundance based on the extent of disease and triglyceride content (P<0.05).

Conclusions: Our findings suggest that HPX is associated with triglycerides and provide a framework for understanding mechanisms underlying lipid metabolism and metabolic disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • 3T3-L1 Cells
  • Adipocytes / metabolism
  • Adipogenesis
  • Adipose Tissue / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Diet, High-Fat
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Female
  • Hemopexin / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Insulin Resistance / physiology
  • Lipid Metabolism / genetics
  • Lipid Metabolism / physiology*
  • Male
  • Metabolic Syndrome / genetics
  • Metabolic Syndrome / pathology*
  • Metabolic Syndrome / physiopathology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Obesity / pathology*
  • Obesity / physiopathology
  • Proteomics
  • Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Triglycerides / metabolism*


  • Triglycerides
  • Hemopexin