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BACKGROUND: It has been reported that macrophage migration inhibitory factor (MIF) stimulated insulin secretion from pancreatic islet beta-cells in an autocrine manner, which suggests its pivotal role in the glucose metabolism. According to this finding, we evaluated MIF expression in cultured adipocytes and epididymal fat pads of obese and diabetic rats to investigate its role in adipose tissue. MATERIALS AND METHODS: The murine adipocyte cell line 3T3-L1 was used to examine MIF mRNA expression and production of MIF protein in response to various concentrations of glucose and insulin. Epididymal fat pads of Otsuka Long-Evans Tokushima fatty (OLETF) and Wistar fatty rats, animal models of obesity and diabetes, were subjected to Northern blot analysis to determine MIF mRNA levels. RESULTS: MIF mRNA of 3T3-L1 adipocytes was up-regulated by costimulation with glucose and insulin. Intracellular MIF content was significantly increased by stimulation, whereas its content in the culture medium was decreased. When the cells were treated with cytochalasin B, MIF secretion in the medium was increased. Pioglitazone significantly increased MIF content in the culture medium of 3T3-L1 cells. However, MIF mRNA expression of both epididymal fat pads of OLETF and Wistar fatty rats was down-regulated despite a high plasma glucose level. The plasma MIF level of Wistar fatty rats was significantly increased by treatment with pioglitazone. CONCLUSION: We show here that the intracellular glucose level is critical to determining the MIF mRNA level as well as its protein content in adipose tissue. MIF is known to play an important role in glucose metabolism as a positive regulator of insulin secretion. In this context, it is conceivable that MIF may affect the pathophysiology of obesity and diabetes.