Hepatic Energy Metabolism Underlying Differential Lipidomic Responses to High-Carbohydrate and High-Fat Diets in Male Wistar Rats

J Nutr. 2021 Sep 4;151(9):2610-2621. doi: 10.1093/jn/nxab178.


Background: Low-carbohydrate diets are suggested to exert metabolic benefits by reducing circulating triacylglycerol (TG) concentrations, possibly by enhancing mitochondrial activity.

Objective: We aimed to elucidate mechanisms by which dietary carbohydrate and fat differentially affect hepatic and circulating TG, and how these mechanisms relate to fatty acid composition.

Methods: Six-week-old, ∼300 g male Wistar rats were fed a high-carbohydrate, low-fat [HC; 61.3% of energy (E%) carbohydrate] or a low-carbohydrate, high-fat (HF; 63.5 E% fat) diet for 4 wk. Parameters of lipid metabolism and mitochondrial function were measured in plasma and liver, with fatty acid composition (GC), high-energy phosphates (HPLC), carnitine metabolites (HPLC-MS/MS), and hepatic gene expression (qPCR) as main outcomes.

Results: In HC-fed rats, plasma TG was double and hepatic TG 27% of that in HF-fed rats. The proportion of oleic acid (18:1n-9) was 60% higher after HF vs. HC feeding while the proportion of palmitoleic acid (16:1n-7) and vaccenic acid (18:1n-7), and estimated activities of stearoyl-CoA desaturase, SCD-16 (16:1n-7/16:0), and de novo lipogenesis (16:0/18:2n-6) were 1.5-7.5-fold in HC vs. HF-fed rats. Accordingly, hepatic expression of fatty acid synthase (Fasn) and acetyl-CoA carboxylase (Acaca/Acc) was strongly upregulated after HC feeding, accompanied with 8-fold higher FAS activity and doubled ACC activity. There were no differences in expression of liver-specific biomarkers of mitochondrial biogenesis and activity (Cytc, Tfam, Cpt1, Cpt2, Ucp2, Hmgcs2); concentrations of ATP, AMP, and energy charge; plasma carnitine/acylcarnitine metabolites; or peroxisomal fatty acid oxidation.

Conclusions: In male Wistar rats, dietary carbohydrate was converted into specific fatty acids via hepatic lipogenesis, contributing to higher plasma TG and total fatty acids compared with high-fat feeding. In contrast, the high-fat, low-carbohydrate feeding increased hepatic fatty acid content, without affecting hepatic mitochondrial fatty acid oxidation.

Keywords: dietary carbohydrate; dietary fat; fatty acid composition; lipogenesis; mitochondria; triacylglycerols.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Diet, High-Fat*
  • Dietary Carbohydrates / metabolism
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Fatty Acids / metabolism
  • Lipidomics*
  • Lipogenesis
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Male
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry
  • Triglycerides / metabolism


  • Dietary Carbohydrates
  • Fatty Acids
  • Triglycerides