A role for phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylethanolamine in hepatic insulin signaling

FASEB J. 2019 Apr;33(4):5045-5057. doi: 10.1096/fj.201802117R. Epub 2019 Jan 7.


Phosphatidylethanolamine N-methyltransferase (PEMT) is an important enzyme in hepatic phosphatidylcholine (PC) biosynthesis. Pemt-/- mice fed a high-fat diet are protected from obesity and whole-body insulin resistance. However, Pemt-/- mice develop severe nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). Because NASH is often associated with hepatic insulin resistance, we investigated whether the increased insulin sensitivity in Pemt-/- mice was restricted to nonhepatic tissues or whether the liver was also insulin sensitive. Strikingly, the livers of Pemt-/- mice compared with those of Pemt+/+ mice were not insulin resistant, despite elevated levels of hepatic triacylglycerols and diacylglycerols, as well as increased hepatic inflammation and fibrosis. Endogenous glucose production was lower in Pemt-/- mice under both basal and hyperinsulinemic conditions. Experiments in primary hepatocytes and hepatoma cells revealed improved insulin signaling in the absence of PEMT, which was not due to changes in diacylglycerols, ceramides, or gangliosides. On the other hand, the phospholipid composition in hepatocytes seems critically important for insulin signaling such that lowering the PC:phosphatidylethanolamine (PE) ratio improves insulin signaling. Thus, treatments to reduce the PC:PE ratio in liver may protect against the development of hepatic insulin resistance.-Van der Veen, J. N., Lingrell, S., McCloskey, N., LeBlond, N. D., Galleguillos, D., Zhao, Y. Y., Curtis, J. M., Sipione, S., Fullerton, M. D., Vance, D. E., Jacobs, R. L. A role for phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylethanolamine in hepatic insulin signaling.

Keywords: PEMT; fatty liver disease; insulin resistance; lipids; phospholipid.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Insulin / metabolism*
  • Insulin Resistance / physiology
  • Liver / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Phosphatidylcholines / metabolism*
  • Phosphatidylethanolamine N-Methyltransferase / metabolism
  • Phosphatidylethanolamines / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology


  • Insulin
  • Phosphatidylcholines
  • Phosphatidylethanolamines
  • PEMT protein, mouse
  • Phosphatidylethanolamine N-Methyltransferase