Liver macrophages regulate systemic metabolism through non-inflammatory factors

Nat Metab. 2019 Apr;1(4):445-459. doi: 10.1038/s42255-019-0044-9. Epub 2019 Mar 25.


Liver macrophages (LMs) have been proposed to contribute to metabolic disease through secretion of inflammatory cytokines. However, anti-inflammatory drugs lead to only modest improvements in systemic metabolism. Here we show that LMs do not undergo a proinflammatory phenotypic switch in obesity-induced insulin resistance in flies, mice and humans. Instead, we find that LMs produce non-inflammatory factors, such as insulin-like growth factor-binding protein 7 (IGFBP7), that directly regulate liver metabolism. IGFBP7 binds to the insulin receptor and induces lipogenesis and gluconeogenesis via activation of extracellular-signal-regulated kinase (ERK) signalling. We further show that IGFBP7 is subject to RNA editing at a higher frequency in insulin-resistant than in insulin-sensitive obese patients (90% versus 30%, respectively), resulting in an IGFBP7 isoform with potentially higher capacity to bind to the insulin receptor. Our study demonstrates that LMs can contribute to insulin resistance independently of their inflammatory status and indicates that non-inflammatory factors produced by macrophages might represent new drug targets for the treatment of metabolic diseases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / metabolism
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor Binding Proteins / genetics
  • Liver / metabolism*
  • Macrophages / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Obesity / metabolism


  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor Binding Proteins
  • insulin-like growth factor binding protein-related protein 1