Iron elevation and adipose tissue remodeling in the epididymal depot of a mouse model of polygenic obesity

PLoS One. 2017 Jun 26;12(6):e0179889. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0179889. eCollection 2017.


Background: Iron dysregulation is a potential contributor to the pathology of obesity-related metabolic complications. KK/HIJ (KK) mice, a polygenic obese mouse model, have elevated serum iron levels. A subset of KK male mice display a bronzing of epididymal adipose tissue (eAT) associated with >100-fold (p<0.001) higher iron concentration.

Methods: To further phenotype and characterize the adipose tissue iron overload, 27 male KK mice were evaluated. 14 had bronzing eAT and 13 had normal appearing eAT. Fasting serum and tissues were collected for iron content, qPCR, histology and western blot.

Results: High iron levels were confirmed in bronzing eAT (High Iron group, HI) versus normal iron level (NI) in normal appearing eAT. Surprisingly, iron levels in subcutaneous and brown adipose depots were not different between the groups (p>0.05). The eAT histology revealed iron retention, macrophage clustering, tissue fibrosis, cell death as well as accumulation of HIF-2α in the high iron eAT. qPCR showed significantly decreased Lep (leptin) and AdipoQ (adiponectin), whereas Tnfα (tumor necrosis factor α), and Slc40a1 (ferroportin) were up-regulated in HI (p<0.05). Elevated HIF-2α, oxidative stress and local insulin signaling loss was also observed.

Significance: Our data suggest that deposition of iron in adipose tissue is limited to the epididymal depot in male KK mice. A robust adipose tissue remodeling is concomitant with the high iron concentration, which causes local adipose tissue insulin resistance.

MeSH terms

  • Adiponectin / genetics
  • Adipose Tissue / metabolism*
  • Adipose Tissue / pathology*
  • Adiposity
  • Animals
  • Blood Glucose / metabolism
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Epididymis / metabolism
  • Epididymis / pathology
  • Insulin Resistance
  • Iron / metabolism*
  • Iron Overload / genetics
  • Iron Overload / metabolism
  • Iron Overload / pathology
  • Leptin / genetics
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Mutant Strains
  • Obesity / genetics
  • Obesity / metabolism*
  • Obesity / pathology*
  • Tissue Distribution


  • Adiponectin
  • Adipoq protein, mouse
  • Blood Glucose
  • Leptin
  • Iron