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1.  Global Transcript Profiles of Fat in Monozygotic Twins Discordant for BMI: Pathways behind Acquired Obesity  
PLoS Medicine  2008;5(3):e51.
The acquired component of complex traits is difficult to dissect in humans. Obesity represents such a trait, in which the metabolic and molecular consequences emerge from complex interactions of genes and environment. With the substantial morbidity associated with obesity, a deeper understanding of the concurrent metabolic changes is of considerable importance. The goal of this study was to investigate this important acquired component and expose obesity-induced changes in biological pathways in an identical genetic background.
Methods and Findings
We used a special study design of “clonal controls,” rare monozygotic twins discordant for obesity identified through a national registry of 2,453 young, healthy twin pairs. A total of 14 pairs were studied (eight male, six female; white), with a mean ± standard deviation (SD) age 25.8 ± 1.4 y and a body mass index (BMI) difference 5.2 ± 1.8 kg/m2. Sequence analyses of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) in subcutaneous fat and peripheral leukocytes revealed no aberrant heteroplasmy between the co-twins. However, mtDNA copy number was reduced by 47% in the obese co-twin's fat. In addition, novel pathway analyses of the adipose tissue transcription profiles exposed significant down-regulation of mitochondrial branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) catabolism (p < 0.0001). In line with this finding, serum levels of insulin secretion-enhancing BCAAs were increased in obese male co-twins (9% increase, p = 0.025). Lending clinical relevance to the findings, in both sexes the observed aberrations in mitochondrial amino acid metabolism pathways in fat correlated closely with liver fat accumulation, insulin resistance, and hyperinsulinemia, early aberrations of acquired obesity in these healthy young adults.
Our findings emphasize a substantial role of mitochondrial energy- and amino acid metabolism in obesity and development of insulin resistance.
Leena Peltonen and colleagues uncover the metabolic changes that result from obesity through an analysis of genetically identical twin pairs in which one was obese and the other was not.
Editors' Summary
Around the world, the proportion of people who are obese (people with an unhealthy amount of body fat) is increasing. In the US, for example, 1 adult in 7 was obese in the mid 1970s. That is, their body mass index (BMI)—their weight in kilograms divided by their height in meters squared—was more than 30. Nowadays, 1 US adult in 3 has a BMI this high and, by 2025, it is predicted that 1 in 2 will be obese. This obesity epidemic is being driven by lifestyle changes that encourage the over-consumption of energy-rich foods and discourage regular physical activity. The resultant energy imbalance leads to weight gain (the excess energy is stored as body fat or adipose tissue) and also triggers numerous metabolic changes, alterations in the chemical processes that convert food into the energy and various substances needed to support life. These obesity-related metabolic changes increase a person's risk of developing adverse health conditions such as diabetes, a condition in which dangerously high levels of sugar from food accumulate in the blood.
Why Was This Study Done?
The changes in human fat in obesity have not been completely understood, although the abnormal metabolism of adipose tissue is increasingly seen as playing a critical part in excessive weight gain. It has been very difficult to decipher which molecular and metabolic changes associated with obesity are the result of becoming obese, and which might contribute towards the acquisition of obesity in humans in the first place. To discover more about the influence of environment on obesity-induced metabolic changes, the researchers in this study have investigated these changes in pairs of genetically identical twins.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers recruited 14 pairs of genetically identical Finnish twins born between 1975 and 1979 who were “obesity discordant”—that is, one twin of each pair had a BMI of about 25 (not obese); the other had a BMI of about 30 (obese). The researchers took fat and blood samples from each twin, determined the insulin sensitivity of each, and measured the body composition and various fat stores of each. They found that the obese twins had more subcutaneous, intra-abdominal, and liver fat and were less insulin sensitive than the non-obese twins. Insulin sensitivity correlated with the amount of liver fat. Analysis of gene expression in the fat samples showed that 19 gene pathways (mainly inflammatory pathways) were expressed more strongly (up-regulated) in the obese twins than the non-obese twins, whereas seven pathways were down-regulated. The most highly down-regulated pathway was a mitochondrial pathway involved in amino acid breakdown, but mitochondrial energy metabolism pathways were also down-regulated. Finally, mitochondrial DNA copy number in fat was reduced in the obese twins by nearly half, a novel observation that could partly account for the obesity-induced metabolic defects of these individuals.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These and other findings identify several pathways that are involved in the development of obesity and insulin resistance. In particular, they suggest that changes in mitochondrial energy production pathways and in mitochondrial amino acid metabolism pathways could play important roles in the development of obesity and of insulin resistance and in the accumulation of liver fat even in young obese people. The study design involving identical twins has here produced some evidence for aberrations in molecules critical for acquired obesity. The results suggest that careful management of obesity by lifestyle changes has the potential to correct the obesity-related metabolic changes in fat that would otherwise lead to diabetes and other adverse health conditions in obese individuals. In addition, they suggest that the development of therapies designed to correct mitochondrial metabolism might help to reduce the illnesses associated with obesity.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
The MedlinePlus encyclopedia has pages on obesity and diabetes (in English and Spanish)
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides information on all aspects of obesity (in English and Spanish)
The UK National Health Service's health Web site (NHS Direct) provides information about obesity
The International Obesity Taskforce provides information about preventing obesity and on diabetes and obesity
The UK Foods Standards Agency and the United States Department of Agriculture provide online tools and useful advice about healthy eating for adults and children
Information is available for patients and carers from the US National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse on diabetes, including information on insulin resistance
PMCID: PMC2265758  PMID: 18336063
2.  The endocannabinoid system links gut microbiota to adipogenesis 
We investigated several models of gut microbiota modulation: selective (prebiotics, probiotics, high-fat), drastic (antibiotics, germ-free mice) and mice bearing specific mutations of a key gene involved in the toll-like receptors (TLR) bacteria-host interaction (Myd88−/−). Here we report that gut microbiota modulates the intestinal endocannabinoid (eCB) system-tone, which in turn regulates gut permeability and plasma lipopolysaccharide (LPS) levels.The activation of the intestinal endocannabinoid system increases gut permeability which in turn enhances plasma LPS levels and inflammation in physiological and pathological conditions such as obesity and type 2 diabetes.The investigation of adipocyte differentiation and lipogenesis (both markers of adipogenesis) indicate that gut microbiota controls adipose tissue physiology through LPS-eCB system regulatory loops and may play a critical role in the adipose tissue plasticity during obesity.In vivo, ex vivo and in vitro studies indicate that LPS acts as a master switch on adipose tissue metabolism, by blocking the cannabinoid-driven adipogenesis.
Obesity and type II diabetes have reached epidemic proportions and are associated with a massive expansion of the adipose tissue. Recent data have shown that these metabolic disorders are characterised by low-grade inflammation of unknown molecular origin (Hotamisligil and Erbay, 2008; Shoelson and Goldfine, 2009); therefore, it is of the utmost importance to identify the link between inflammation and adipose tissue metabolism and plasticity. Among the latest important discoveries published in the field, two new concepts have driven this study. First, emerging data have shown that gut microbiota is involved in the control of energy homeostasis (Ley et al, 2005; Turnbaugh et al, 2006; Claus et al, 2008) Obesity is characterised by the massive expansion of adipose tissues and is associated with inflammation (Weisberg et al, 2003). It is possible that both this expansion and the associated inflammation are controlled by microbiota and lipopolysaccharide (LPS) (Cani et al, 2007a, 2008), a cell wall component of Gram-negative bacteria that is among the most potent inducers of inflammation (Cani et al, 2007a, 2007b, 2008; Cani and Delzenne, 2009). Second, obesity is also characterised by greater endocannabinoid (eCB) system tone (increased eCB plasma levels, altered expression of the cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1 mRNA) and increased eCB levels in the adipose tissue) (Engeli et al, 2005; Bluher et al, 2006; Matias et al, 2006; Cote et al, 2007; D'Eon et al, 2008; Starowicz et al, 2008; Di Marzo et al, 2009; Izzo et al, 2009).
Several studies have suggested a close relationship between LPS, gut microbiota and the eCB system. Indeed, LPS controls the synthesis of eCB in macrophages, whereas macrophage infiltration in the adipose tissue occurring during obesity is an important factor in the development of the metabolic disorders (Weisberg et al, 2003). We have shown that macrophage infiltration is not only dependent on the activation of the receptor CD14 by LPS, but is also dependent on the gut microbiota composition and the gut barrier function (gut permeability) (Cani et al, 2007a, 2008). Moreover, LPS controls the synthesis of eCBs both in vivo (Hoareau et al, 2009) and in vitro (Di Marzo et al, 1999; Maccarrone et al, 2001) through mechanisms dependent of the LPS receptor signalling pathway (Liu et al, 2003). Thus, obesity is nowadays associated with changes in gut microbiota and a higher endocannabinoid system tone, both having a function in the disease's pathophysiology.
Given that the convergent molecular mechanisms that may affect these different supersystem activities and adiposity remain to be elucidated, we tested the hypothesis that the gut microbiota and the eCB system control gut permeability and adipogenesis, by a LPS-dependent mechanism, under both physiological and obesity-related conditions.
First, we found that high-fat diet-induced obese and diabetic animals exhibit threefold higher colonic CB1 mRNA, whereas no modification was observed in the small intestinal segment (jejunum). Moreover, selective modulation of gut microbiota using prebiotics (i.e. non-digestible compounds fermented by specific bacteria in the gut) (Gibson and Roberfroid, 1995) reduces by about one half this effect. Similarly, in genetically obese mice (ob/ob), prebiotic treatment decreases colonic CB1 mRNA and colonic eCB concentrations (AEA) (Figure 2A). In addition, we have observed a modulation of FAAH and MGL mRNA (Figure 2A). Furthermore, we have found that antibiotic treatment decreasing the number of gut bacteria content was associated with a strong reduction of the CB1 receptor levels in the colon of healthy mice.
Second, we show that the endocannabinoid system controls gut barrier function (in vivo and in vitro) and endotoxaemia. More precisely, we designed two in vivo experiments in obese and lean mice (Figure 2). In a first experiment, we blocked the CB1 receptor in obese mice with a specific and selective antagonist (SR141716A) and found that the blockade of the CB1 receptor reduces plasma LPS levels by a mechanism linked to the improvement of the gut barrier function (Figure 2C) as shown by the lower alteration of tight junctions proteins (zonula occludens-1 (ZO-1) and occludin) distribution and localisation, and independently of food intake behaviour (Figures 2D and 3). In a second set of experiments performed in lean wild-type mice, we mimicked the increased eCB system tone observed during obesity by chronic (4-week) infusion of a cannabinoid receptor agonist (HU-210) through mini-pumps implanted subcutaneously. We found that cannabinoid agonist administration significantly increased plasma LPS levels. Furthermore, increased plasma fluorescein isothiocyanate-dextran levels were observed after oral gavage (Figure 2F and G). These sets of in vivo experiments strongly suggest that an overactive eCB system increases gut permeability. Finally, in a cellular model of intestinal epithelial barrier (Caco-2 cells monolayer), we found that CB1 receptor antagonist normalised LPS and the cannabinoid receptors agonist HU-210-induced epithelial barrier alterations.
Third, we provide evidence that adipogenesis is under the control of the gut microbiota, through the modulation of the gut and adipose tissue endocannabinoid systems in both physiological and pathological conditions. We found that the higher eCB system tone (found in obesity or mimicked by eCB agonist) participates to the regulation of adipogenesis by directly acting on the adipose tissue, but also indirectly by increasing plasma LPS levels, which consequently impair adipogenesis and promote inflammatory states. Here, we found that both the specific modulation of the gut microbiota and the blockade of the CB1 receptor decrease plasma LPS levels and is associated with higher adipocyte differentiation and lipogenesis rate. One possible explanation for these surprising data could be as follows: plasma LPS levels might be under the control of CB1 in the intestine (gut barrier function); therefore, under particular pathophysiological conditions in vivo (e.g. obesity/type II diabetes), this could lead to higher circulating LPS levels. Furthermore, CB1 receptor blockade might paradoxically increase adipogenesis because of the ability of CB1 antagonist to reduce gut permeability and counteract the LPS-induced inhibitory effect on adipocyte differentiation and lipogenesis (i.e. a disinhibition mechanism). In summary, given that these treatments reduce gut permeability and, hence, plasma LPS levels and inflammatory tone, we hypothesised that LPS could act as a regulator in this process. This hypothesis was further supported in vitro and in vivo by the observation that cannabinoid-induced adipocyte differentiation and lipogenesis were directly altered (i.e. reduced) in the presence of physiological levels of LPS. In summary, because these treatments reduce gut permeability, hence, plasma LPS and inflammatory tone, we hypothesised that LPS acts as a regulator in this process. Altogether, our data provide the evidence that the consequences of obesity and gut microbiota dysregulation on gut permeability and metabolic endotoxaemia are clearly mediated by the eCB system, those observed on adiposity are likely the result of two systems interactions: LPS-dependent pathways activities and eCB system tone dysregulation (Figure 9).
Our results indicate that the endocannabinoid system tone and the plasma LPS levels have a critical function in the regulation of the adipose tissue plasticity. As obesity is commonly characterised by increased eCB system tone, higher plasma LPS levels, altered gut microbiota and impaired adipose tissue metabolism, it is likely that the increased eCB system tone found in obesity is caused by a failure or a vicious cycle within the pathways controlling the eCB system.
These findings show that two novel therapeutic targets in the treatment of obesity, the gut microbiota and the endocannabinoid system, are closely interconnected. They also provide evidence for the presence of a new integrative physiological axis between gut and adipose tissue regulated by LPS and endocannabinoids. Finally, we propose that the increased endotoxaemia and endocannabinoid system tone found in obesity might explain the altered adipose tissue metabolism.
Obesity is characterised by altered gut microbiota, low-grade inflammation and increased endocannabinoid (eCB) system tone; however, a clear connection between gut microbiota and eCB signalling has yet to be confirmed. Here, we report that gut microbiota modulate the intestinal eCB system tone, which in turn regulates gut permeability and plasma lipopolysaccharide (LPS) levels. The impact of the increased plasma LPS levels and eCB system tone found in obesity on adipose tissue metabolism (e.g. differentiation and lipogenesis) remains unknown. By interfering with the eCB system using CB1 agonist and antagonist in lean and obese mouse models, we found that the eCB system controls gut permeability and adipogenesis. We also show that LPS acts as a master switch to control adipose tissue metabolism both in vivo and ex vivo by blocking cannabinoid-driven adipogenesis. These data indicate that gut microbiota determine adipose tissue physiology through LPS-eCB system regulatory loops and may have critical functions in adipose tissue plasticity during obesity.
PMCID: PMC2925525  PMID: 20664638
adipose tissue; endocannabinoids; gut microbiota; lipopolysaccharide (LPS); obesity
3.  Acute-Phase Serum Amyloid A: An Inflammatory Adipokine and Potential Link between Obesity and Its Metabolic Complications 
PLoS Medicine  2006;3(6):e287.
Obesity is associated with low-grade chronic inflammation, and serum markers of inflammation are independent risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD). However, the molecular and cellular mechanisms that link obesity to chronic inflammation and CVD are poorly understood.
Methods and Findings
Acute-phase serum amyloid A (A-SAA) mRNA levels, and A-SAA adipose secretion and serum levels were measured in obese and nonobese individuals, obese participants who underwent weight-loss, and persons treated with the insulin sensitizer rosiglitazone. Inflammation-eliciting activity of A-SAA was investigated in human adipose stromal vascular cells, coronary vascular endothelial cells and a murine monocyte cell line. We demonstrate that A-SAA was highly and selectively expressed in human adipocytes. Moreover, A-SAA mRNA levels and A-SAA secretion from adipose tissue were significantly correlated with body mass index ( r = 0.47; p = 0.028 and r = 0.80; p = 0.0002, respectively). Serum A-SAA levels decreased significantly after weight loss in obese participants ( p = 0.006), as well as in those treated with rosiglitazone ( p = 0.033). The magnitude of the improvement in insulin sensitivity after weight loss was significantly correlated with decreases in serum A-SAA ( r = −0.74; p = 0.034). SAA treatment of vascular endothelial cells and monocytes markedly increased the production of inflammatory cytokines, e.g., interleukin (IL)-6, IL-8, tumor necrosis factor alpha, and monocyte chemoattractant protein-1. In addition, SAA increased basal lipolysis in adipose tissue culture by 47%.
A-SAA is a proinflammatory and lipolytic adipokine in humans. The increased expression of A-SAA by adipocytes in obesity suggests that it may play a critical role in local and systemic inflammation and free fatty acid production and could be a direct link between obesity and its comorbidities, such as insulin resistance and atherosclerosis. Accordingly, improvements in systemic inflammation and insulin resistance with weight loss and rosiglitazone therapy may in part be mediated by decreases in adipocyte A-SAA production.
Editors' Summary
Obesity often alters an individual's overall metabolism, which in turn leads to complications like diabetes, high blood pressure, and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease (disease of the heart and blood vessels, such as stroke or heart attacks). Having established a strong link between inflammation and cardiovascular disease, scientists now think that obesity might cause persistent low-level inflammation, and that this is the reason for the cardiovascular problems seen in many obese people. By better understanding the links between obesity, inflammation, and cardiovascular disease, the hope is that scientists may be able to find medications that can be given to obese people to reduce their risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Why Was This Study Done?
Previous research had suggested that a substance in the blood called A-SAA, which is raised by inflammation, might be a “missing link” between inflammation and cardiovascular disease, since an individual's baseline level of A-SAA is associated with the risk for cardiovascular disease (in other words, the higher the A-SAA, the higher the risk of cardiovascular disease). In the new study, researchers wanted to know whether the reason that obese people have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease is because they have higher blood levels of A-SAA.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
They found that obese people had higher levels of A-SAA in their blood. A-SAA appears to be produced in fat cells (or adipocytes) and then released into the blood. Obese people have higher numbers of fat cells, which could by itself account for the higher blood levels of A-SAA, but the researchers also found that the average fat cell from an obese individual produces and secretes higher levels of A-SAA than fat cells from lean individuals. When the researchers studied people who underwent weight loss, they found that A-SAA levels fell in response to weight loss, and this was associated with improvements in their metabolism. They then studied obese individuals who received the diabetes drug rosiglitazone (which is known to reduce inflammation). They found that even though these individuals did not lose weight, their A-SAA levels dropped as their metabolism improved. Trying to get at the mechanisms by which A-SAA might cause inflammation and diabetes, the researchers found that exposure to A-SAA can stimulate the activation of proinflammation molecules in a number of different cells, including blood vessel cells. It can also stimulate cells to break down fat stores and release fats, which could lead to metabolic complications and ultimately contribute to diabetes.
What Do These Findings Mean?
Together with similar results from other studies, the findings here suggest that A-SAA could promote inflammation, and that elevated levels of A-SAA in obese individuals could contribute to the chronic low-level inflammatory state that puts them at higher risk for cardiovascular complications. The authors speculate that drugs that reduce the blood levels of A-SAA might be useful as treatments for obese patients (to lower their risk of heart attacks and strokes). However, as they acknowledge, additional studies are needed to establish that A-SAA is indeed a causal link between obesity and inflammation and whether it plays a major role before it could be considered a promising drug target.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
• MedlinePlus pages on obesity and cardiovascular disease
• US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pages on obesity and cardiovascular disease
• Wikipedia pages on obesity and cardiovascular disease (note: Wikipedia is a free Internet encyclopedia that anyone can edit)
Higher levels of Acute-phase serum amyloid A (A-SAA), a proinflammatory adipokine, in obese individuals may contribute to the chronic low-level inflammatory state that puts them at higher risk for cardiovascular complications.
PMCID: PMC1472697  PMID: 16737350
4.  Increased death of adipose cells, a path to release cell free DNA into systemic circulation of obese women 
Obesity (Silver Spring, Md.)  2012;20(11):2213-2219.
Remodeling of adipose tissue is required to support the expansion of adipose mass. In obesity, an increased death of adipocytes contributes to the accelerated cellular turnover. We have shown that obesity in pregnancy is associated with metabolic and immune alterations in the adipose tissue. In this study we characterized the mechanisms responsible for increased death of adipose cells of pregnant obese women and its functional consequences. We postulated that a higher turnover of dead cells in white adipose tissue of obese women would translate into release of cell free DNA (cfDNA) into their systemic circulation.
Increase in adipose mass of obese compared to lean women results from a lesser number of hypertrophic adipocytes and an accumulation of macrophages in the stromal vascular fraction (SVF). The adipocytes of obese displayed enhanced necrosis with a loss of perilipin staining at the plasma membrane. Apoptosis was prominent in SVF cells with an increased expression of caspase 9 and caspase 3 and a higher rate of TUNEL positive CD68 macrophages in obese vs lean. Whereas circulating fetal cfDNA concentrations were not changed, there was a 2-fold increase in circulating GAPDH cfDNA and adipose tissue GAPDH mRNA in obese women. The maternal systemic GAPDH cfDNA was positively correlated with BMI and gestational weight gain. These data suggest that the active remodeling of adipose tissue of obese pregnant women results in an increased release of cfDNA of maternal origin into the circulation.
PMCID: PMC3483388  PMID: 22836687
obesity; adipose tissue; macrophages; apoptosis; necrosis; cell-free DNA; pregnancy
5.  Gene expression profiling of subcutaneous adipose tissue in morbid obesity using a focused microarray: Distinct expression of cell-cycle- and differentiation-related genes 
BMC Medical Genomics  2010;3:61.
Obesity results from an imbalance between food intake and energy expenditure, which leads to an excess of adipose tissue. The excess of adipose tissue and adipocyte dysfunction associated with obesity are linked to the abnormal regulation of adipogenesis. The objective of this study was to analyze the expression profile of cell-cycle- and lipid-metabolism-related genes of adipose tissue in morbid obesity.
We used a custom-made focused cDNA microarray to determine the adipose tissue mRNA expression profile. Gene expression of subcutaneous abdominal fat samples from 15 morbidly obese women was compared with subcutaneous fat samples from 10 nonobese control patients. The findings were validated in an independent population of 31 obese women and 9 obese men and in an animal model of obesity (Lepob/ob mice) by real-time RT-PCR.
Microarray analysis revealed that transcription factors that regulate the first stages of adipocyte differentiation, such as CCAAT/enhancer binding protein beta (C/EBPβ) and JUN, were upregulated in the adipose tissues of morbidly obese patients. The expression of peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma (PPARγ), a transcription factor which controls lipid metabolism and the final steps of preadipocyte conversion into mature adipocytes, was downregulated. The expression of three cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitors that regulate clonal expansion and postmitotic growth arrest during adipocyte differentiation was also altered in obese subjects: p18 and p27 were downregulated, and p21 was upregulated. Angiopoietin-like 4 (ANGPTL4), which regulates angiogenesis, lipid and glucose metabolism and it is know to increase dramatically in the early stages of adipocyte differentiation, was upregulated. The expression of C/EBPβ, p18, p21, JUN, and ANGPTL4 presented similar alterations in subcutaneous adipose tissue of Lepob/ob mice.
Our microarray gene profiling study revealed that the expression of genes involved in adipogenesis is profoundly altered in the subcutaneous adipose tissue of morbidly obese subjects. This expression pattern is consistent with an immature adipocyte phenotype that could reflect the expansion of the adipose tissue during obesity.
PMCID: PMC3022546  PMID: 21182758
6.  Metabolic Signatures of Adiposity in Young Adults: Mendelian Randomization Analysis and Effects of Weight Change 
PLoS Medicine  2014;11(12):e1001765.
In this study, Wurtz and colleagues investigated to what extent elevated body mass index (BMI) within the normal weight range has causal influences on the detailed systemic metabolite profile in early adulthood using Mendelian randomization analysis.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Increased adiposity is linked with higher risk for cardiometabolic diseases. We aimed to determine to what extent elevated body mass index (BMI) within the normal weight range has causal effects on the detailed systemic metabolite profile in early adulthood.
Methods and Findings
We used Mendelian randomization to estimate causal effects of BMI on 82 metabolic measures in 12,664 adolescents and young adults from four population-based cohorts in Finland (mean age 26 y, range 16–39 y; 51% women; mean ± standard deviation BMI 24±4 kg/m2). Circulating metabolites were quantified by high-throughput nuclear magnetic resonance metabolomics and biochemical assays. In cross-sectional analyses, elevated BMI was adversely associated with cardiometabolic risk markers throughout the systemic metabolite profile, including lipoprotein subclasses, fatty acid composition, amino acids, inflammatory markers, and various hormones (p<0.0005 for 68 measures). Metabolite associations with BMI were generally stronger for men than for women (median 136%, interquartile range 125%–183%). A gene score for predisposition to elevated BMI, composed of 32 established genetic correlates, was used as the instrument to assess causality. Causal effects of elevated BMI closely matched observational estimates (correspondence 87%±3%; R2 = 0.89), suggesting causative influences of adiposity on the levels of numerous metabolites (p<0.0005 for 24 measures), including lipoprotein lipid subclasses and particle size, branched-chain and aromatic amino acids, and inflammation-related glycoprotein acetyls. Causal analyses of certain metabolites and potential sex differences warrant stronger statistical power. Metabolite changes associated with change in BMI during 6 y of follow-up were examined for 1,488 individuals. Change in BMI was accompanied by widespread metabolite changes, which had an association pattern similar to that of the cross-sectional observations, yet with greater metabolic effects (correspondence 160%±2%; R2 = 0.92).
Mendelian randomization indicates causal adverse effects of increased adiposity with multiple cardiometabolic risk markers across the metabolite profile in adolescents and young adults within the non-obese weight range. Consistent with the causal influences of adiposity, weight changes were paralleled by extensive metabolic changes, suggesting a broadly modifiable systemic metabolite profile in early adulthood.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Adiposity—having excessive body fat—is a growing global threat to public health. Body mass index (BMI, calculated by dividing a person's weight in kilograms by their height in meters squared) is a coarse indicator of excess body weight, but the measure is useful in large population studies. Compared to people with a lean body weight (a BMI of 18.5–24.9 kg/m2), individuals with higher BMI have an elevated risk of developing life-shortening cardiometabolic diseases—cardiovascular diseases that affect the heart and/or the blood vessels (for example, heart failure and stroke) and metabolic diseases that affect the cellular chemical reactions that sustain life (for example, diabetes). People become unhealthily fat by consuming food and drink that contains more energy (calories) than they need for their daily activities. So adiposity can be prevented and reversed by eating less and exercising more.
Why Was This Study Done?
Epidemiological studies, which record the patterns of risk factors and disease in populations, suggest that the illness and death associated with excess body weight is partly attributable to abnormalities in how individuals with high adiposity metabolize carbohydrates and fats, leading to higher blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Further, adiposity is also associated with many other deviations in the metabolic profile than these commonly measured risk factors. However, epidemiological studies cannot prove that adiposity causes specific changes in a person's systemic (overall) metabolic profile because individuals with high BMI may share other characteristics (confounding factors) that are the actual causes of both adiposity and metabolic abnormalities. Moreover, having a change in some aspect of metabolism could also lead to adiposity, rather than vice versa (reverse causation). Importantly, if there is a causal effect of adiposity on cardiometabolic risk factor levels, it might be possible to prevent the progression towards cardiometabolic diseases by weight loss. Here, the researchers use “Mendelian randomization” to examine whether increased BMI within the normal and overweight range is causally influencing the metabolic risk factors from many biological pathways during early adulthood. Because gene variants are inherited randomly, they are not prone to confounding and are free from reverse causation. Several gene variants are known to lead to modestly increased BMI. Thus, an investigation of the associations between these gene variants and risk factors across the systemic metabolite profile in a population of healthy individuals can indicate whether higher BMI is causally related to known and novel metabolic risk factors and higher cardiometabolic disease risk.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers measured the BMI of 12,664 adolescents and young adults (average BMI 24.7 kg/m2) living in Finland and the blood levels of 82 metabolites in these young individuals at a single time point. Statistical analysis of these data indicated that elevated BMI was adversely associated with numerous cardiometabolic risk factors. For example, elevated BMI was associated with raised levels of low-density lipoprotein, “bad” cholesterol that increases cardiovascular disease risk. Next, the researchers used a gene score for predisposition to increased BMI, composed of 32 gene variants correlated with increased BMI, as an “instrumental variable” to assess whether adiposity causes metabolite abnormalities. The effects on the systemic metabolite profile of a 1-kg/m2 increment in BMI due to genetic predisposition closely matched the effects of an observed 1-kg/m2 increment in adulthood BMI on the metabolic profile. That is, higher levels of adiposity had causal effects on the levels of numerous blood-based metabolic risk factors, including higher levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and triglyceride-carrying lipoproteins, protein markers of chronic inflammation and adverse liver function, impaired insulin sensitivity, and elevated concentrations of several amino acids that have recently been linked with the risk for developing diabetes. Elevated BMI also causally led to lower levels of certain high-density lipoprotein lipids in the blood, a marker for the risk of future cardiovascular disease. Finally, an examination of the metabolic changes associated with changes in BMI in 1,488 young adults after a period of six years showed that those metabolic measures that were most strongly associated with BMI at a single time point likewise displayed the highest responsiveness to weight change over time.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that increased adiposity has causal adverse effects on multiple cardiometabolic risk markers in non-obese young adults beyond the effects on cholesterol and blood sugar. Like all Mendelian randomization studies, the reliability of the causal association reported here depends on several assumptions made by the researchers. Nevertheless, these findings suggest that increased adiposity has causal adverse effects on multiple cardiometabolic risk markers in non-obese young adults. Importantly, the results of both the causal effect analyses and the longitudinal study suggest that there is no threshold below which a BMI increase does not adversely affect the metabolic profile, and that a systemic metabolic profile linked with high cardiometabolic disease risk that becomes established during early adulthood can be reversed. Overall, these findings therefore highlight the importance of weight reduction as a key target for metabolic risk factor control among young adults.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at
The Computational Medicine Research Team of the University of Oulu has a webpage that provides further information on metabolite profiling by high-throughput NMR metabolomics
The World Health Organization provides information on obesity (in several languages)
The Global Burden of Disease Study website provides the latest details about global obesity trends
The UK National Health Service Choices website provides information about obesity, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes (including some personal stories)
The American Heart Association provides information on all aspects of cardiovascular disease and diabetes and on keeping healthy; its website includes personal stories about heart attacks, stroke, and diabetes
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has information on all aspects of overweight and obesity and information about heart disease, stroke, and diabetes
MedlinePlus provides links to other sources of information on heart disease, vascular disease, and obesity (in English and Spanish)
Wikipedia has a page on Mendelian randomization (note: Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
PMCID: PMC4260795  PMID: 25490400
7.  Differential Lipid Partitioning Between Adipocytes and Tissue Macrophages Modulates Macrophage Lipotoxicity and M2/M1 Polarization in Obese Mice 
Diabetes  2011;60(3):797-809.
Obesity-associated insulin resistance is characterized by a state of chronic, low-grade inflammation that is associated with the accumulation of M1 proinflammatory macrophages in adipose tissue. Although different evidence explains the mechanisms linking the expansion of adipose tissue and adipose tissue macrophage (ATM) polarization, in the current study we investigated the concept of lipid-induced toxicity as the pathogenic link that could explain the trigger of this response.
We addressed this question using isolated ATMs and adipocytes from genetic and diet-induced murine models of obesity. Through transcriptomic and lipidomic analysis, we created a model integrating transcript and lipid species networks simultaneously occurring in adipocytes and ATMs and their reversibility by thiazolidinedione treatment.
We show that polarization of ATMs is associated with lipid accumulation and the consequent formation of foam cell–like cells in adipose tissue. Our study reveals that early stages of adipose tissue expansion are characterized by M2-polarized ATMs and that progressive lipid accumulation within ATMs heralds the M1 polarization, a macrophage phenotype associated with severe obesity and insulin resistance. Furthermore, rosiglitazone treatment, which promotes redistribution of lipids toward adipocytes and extends the M2 ATM polarization state, prevents the lipid alterations associated with M1 ATM polarization.
Our data indicate that the M1 ATM polarization in obesity might be a macrophage-specific manifestation of a more general lipotoxic pathogenic mechanism. This indicates that strategies to optimize fat deposition and repartitioning toward adipocytes might improve insulin sensitivity by preventing ATM lipotoxicity and M1 polarization.
PMCID: PMC3046840  PMID: 21266330
8.  Carbenoxolone Treatment Ameliorated Metabolic Syndrome in WNIN/Ob Obese Rats, but Induced Severe Fat Loss and Glucose Intolerance in Lean Rats 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(12):e50216.
11beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 1 (11β-HSD1) regulates local glucocorticoid action in tissues by catalysing conversion of inactive glucocorticoids to active glucocorticoids. 11β-HSD1 inhibition ameliorates obesity and associated co-morbidities. Here, we tested the effect of 11β-HSD inhibitor, carbenoxolone (CBX) on obesity and associated comorbidities in obese rats of WNIN/Ob strain, a new animal model for genetic obesity.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Subcutaneous injection of CBX (50 mg/kg body weight) or volume-matched vehicle was given once daily for four weeks to three month-old WNIN/Ob lean and obese rats (n = 6 for each phenotype and for each treatment). Body composition, plasma lipids and hormones were assayed. Hepatic steatosis, adipose tissue morphology, inflammation and fibrosis were also studied. Insulin resistance and glucose intolerance were determined along with tissue glycogen content. Gene expressions were determined in liver and adipose tissue. CBX significantly inhibited 11β-HSD1 activity in liver and adipose tissue of WNIN/Ob lean and obese rats. CBX significantly decreased body fat percentage, hypertriglyceridemia, hypercholesterolemia, insulin resistance in obese rats. CBX ameliorated hepatic steatosis, adipocyte hypertrophy, adipose tissue inflammation and fibrosis in obese rats. Tissue glycogen content was significantly decreased by CBX in liver and adipose tissue of obese rats. Severe fat loss and glucose- intolerance were observed in lean rats after CBX treatment.
We conclude that 11β-HSD1 inhibition by CBX decreases obesity and associated co-morbidities in WNIN/Ob obese rats. Our study supports the hypothesis that inhibition of 11β-HSD1 is a key strategy to treat metabolic syndrome. Severe fat loss and glucose -intolerance by CBX treatment in lean rats suggest that chronic 11β-HSD1 inhibition may lead to insulin resistance in normal conditions.
PMCID: PMC3524236  PMID: 23284633
9.  Plasma Lysophosphatidylcholine Levels Are Reduced in Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(7):e41456.
Obesity and type 2 diabetes (T2DM) are associated with increased circulating free fatty acids and triacylglycerols. However, very little is known about specific molecular lipid species associated with these diseases. In order to gain further insight into this, we performed plasma lipidomic analysis in a rodent model of obesity and insulin resistance as well as in lean, obese and obese individuals with T2DM.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Lipidomic analysis using liquid chromatography coupled to mass spectrometry revealed marked changes in the plasma of 12 week high fat fed mice. Although a number of triacylglycerol and diacylglycerol species were elevated along with of a number of sphingolipids, a particularly interesting finding was the high fat diet (HFD)-induced reduction in lysophosphatidylcholine (LPC) levels. As liver, skeletal muscle and adipose tissue play an important role in metabolism, we next determined whether the HFD altered LPCs in these tissues. In contrast to our findings in plasma, only very modest changes in tissue LPCs were noted. To determine when the change in plasma LPCs occurred in response to the HFD, mice were studied after 1, 3 and 6 weeks of HFD. The HFD caused rapid alterations in plasma LPCs with most changes occurring within the first week. Consistent with our rodent model, data from our small human cohort showed a reduction in a number of LPC species in obese and obese individuals with T2DM. Interestingly, no differences were found between the obese otherwise healthy individuals and the obese T2DM patients.
Irrespective of species, our lipidomic profiling revealed a generalized decrease in circulating LPC species in states of obesity. Moreover, our data indicate that diet and adiposity, rather than insulin resistance or diabetes per se, play an important role in altering the plasma LPC profile.
PMCID: PMC3405068  PMID: 22848500
10.  Quantifying Size and Number of Adipocytes in Adipose Tissue 
Methods in enzymology  2014;537:93-122.
White adipose tissue (WAT) is a dynamic and modifiable tissue that develops late during gestation in humans and through early postnatal development in rodents. WAT is unique in that it can account for as little as 3% of total body weight in elite athletes or as much as 70% in the morbidly obese. With the development of obesity, WAT undergoes a process of tissue remodeling in which adipocytes increase in both number (hyperplasia) and size (hypertrophy). Metabolic derangements associated with obesity, including type 2 diabetes, occur when WAT growth through hyperplasia and hypertrophy cannot keep pace with the energy storage needs associated with chronic energy excess. Accordingly, hypertrophic adipocytes become overburdened with lipids, resulting in changes in the secreted hormonal milieu. Lipids that cannot be stored in the engorged adipocytes become ectopically deposited in organs such as the liver, muscle, and pancreas. WAT remodeling therefore coincides with obesity and secondary metabolic diseases. Obesity, however, is not unique in causing WAT remodeling: changes in adiposity also occur with aging, calorie restriction, cancers, and diseases such as HIV infection. In this chapter, we describe a semiautomated method of quantitatively analyzing the histomorphometry of WAT using common laboratory equipment. With this technique, the frequency distribution of adipocyte sizes across the tissue depot and the number of total adipocytes per depot can be estimated by counting as few as 100 adipocytes per animal. In doing so, the method described herein is a useful tool for accurately quantifying WAT development, growth, and remodeling.
PMCID: PMC4069255  PMID: 24480343
11.  Prebiotic Effects of Wheat Arabinoxylan Related to the Increase in Bifidobacteria, Roseburia and Bacteroides/Prevotella in Diet-Induced Obese Mice 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(6):e20944.
Alterations in the composition of gut microbiota - known as dysbiosis - has been proposed to contribute to the development of obesity, thereby supporting the potential interest of nutrients targeting the gut with beneficial effect for host adiposity. We test the ability of a specific concentrate of water-extractable high molecular weight arabinoxylans (AX) from wheat to modulate both the gut microbiota and lipid metabolism in high-fat (HF) diet-induced obese mice.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Mice were fed either a control diet (CT) or a HF diet, or a HF diet supplemented with AX (10% w/w) during 4 weeks. AX supplementation restored the number of bacteria that were decreased upon HF feeding, i.e. Bacteroides-Prevotella spp. and Roseburia spp. Importantly, AX treatment markedly increased caecal bifidobacteria content, in particular Bifidobacterium animalis lactis. This effect was accompanied by improvement of gut barrier function and by a lower circulating inflammatory marker. Interestingly, rumenic acid (C18:2 c9,t11) was increased in white adipose tissue due to AX treatment, suggesting the influence of gut bacterial metabolism on host tissue. In parallel, AX treatment decreased adipocyte size and HF diet-induced expression of genes mediating differentiation, fatty acid uptake, fatty acid oxidation and inflammation, and decreased a key lipogenic enzyme activity in the subcutaneous adipose tissue. Furthermore, AX treatment significantly decreased HF-induced adiposity, body weight gain, serum and hepatic cholesterol accumulation and insulin resistance. Correlation analysis reveals that Roseburia spp. and Bacteroides/Prevotella levels inversely correlate with these host metabolic parameters.
Supplementation of a concentrate of water-extractable high molecular weight AX in the diet counteracted HF-induced gut dysbiosis together with an improvement of obesity and lipid-lowering effects. We postulate that hypocholesterolemic, anti-inflammatory and anti-obesity effects are related to changes in gut microbiota. These data support a role for wheat AX as interesting nutrients with prebiotic properties related to obesity prevention.
PMCID: PMC3111466  PMID: 21695273
12.  Distinct effects of calorie restriction on adipose tissue cytokine and angiogenesis profiles in obese and lean mice 
Obesity associates with low-grade inflammation and adipose tissue remodeling. Using sensitive high-throughput protein arrays we here investigated adipose tissue cytokine and angiogenesis-related protein profiles from obese and lean mice, and in particular, the influence of calorie restriction (CR).
Tissue samples from visceral fat were harvested from obese mice fed with a high-fat diet (60% of energy), lean controls receiving low-fat control diet as well as from obese and lean mice kept under CR (energy intake 70% of ad libitum intake) for 50 days. Protein profiles were analyzed using mouse cytokine and angiogenesis protein array kits.
In obese and lean mice, CR was associated with 11.3% and 15.6% reductions in body weight, as well as with 4.0% and 4.6% reductions in body fat percentage, respectively. Obesity induced adipose tissue cytokine expressions, the most highly upregulated cytokines being IL-1ra, IL-2, IL-16, MCP-1, MIG, RANTES, C5a, sICAM-1 and TIMP-1. CR increased sICAM-1 and TIMP-1 expression both in obese and lean mice. Overall, CR showed distinct effects on cytokine expressions; in obese mice CR largely decreased but in lean mice increased adipose tissue cytokine expressions. Obesity was also associated with increased expressions of angiogenesis-related proteins, in particular, angiogenin, endoglin, endostatin, endothelin-1, IGFBP-3, leptin, MMP-3, PAI-1, TIMP-4, CXCL16, platelet factor 4, DPPIV and coagulation factor III. CR increased endoglin, endostatin and platelet factor 4 expressions, and decreased IGFBP-3, NOV, MMP-9, CXCL16 and osteopontin expressions both in obese and lean mice. Interestingly, in obese mice, CR decreased leptin and TIMP-4 expressions, whereas in lean mice their expressions were increased. CR decreased MMP-3 and PAI-1 only in obese mice, whereas CR decreased FGF acidic, FGF basic and coagulation factor III, and increased angiogenin and DPPIV expression only in lean mice.
CR exerts distinct effects on adipocyte cytokine and angiogenesis profiles in obese and lean mice. Our study also underscores the importance of angiogenesis-related proteins and cytokines in adipose tissue remodeling and development of obesity.
PMCID: PMC3478179  PMID: 22748184
adipose tissue; cytokines; angiogenesis; calorie restriction
13.  Acquired Obesity Is Associated with Changes in the Serum Lipidomic Profile Independent of Genetic Effects – A Monozygotic Twin Study 
PLoS ONE  2007;2(2):e218.
Both genetic and environmental factors are involved in the etiology of obesity and the associated lipid disturbances. We determined whether acquired obesity is associated with changes in global serum lipid profiles independent of genetic factors in young adult monozygotic (MZ) twins. 14 healthy MZ pairs discordant for obesity (10 to 25 kg weight difference) and ten weight concordant control pairs aged 24–27 years were identified from a large population-based study. Insulin sensitivity was assessed by the euglycemic clamp technique, and body composition by DEXA (% body fat) and by MRI (subcutaneous and intra-abdominal fat). Global characterization of lipid molecular species in serum was performed by a lipidomics strategy using liquid chromatography coupled to mass spectrometry. Obesity, independent of genetic influences, was primarily related to increases in lysophosphatidylcholines, lipids found in proinflammatory and proatherogenic conditions and to decreases in ether phospholipids, which are known to have antioxidant properties. These lipid changes were associated with insulin resistance, a pathogonomic characteristic of acquired obesity in these young adult twins. Our results show that obesity, already in its early stages and independent of genetic influences, is associated with deleterious alterations in the lipid metabolism known to facilitate atherogenesis, inflammation and insulin resistance.
PMCID: PMC1789242  PMID: 17299598
14.  Monocyte to Macrophage Differentiation Goes along with Modulation of the Plasmalogen Pattern through Transcriptional Regulation 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(4):e94102.
Dysregulation of monocyte-macrophage differentiation is a hallmark of vascular and metabolic diseases and associated with persistent low grade inflammation. Plasmalogens represent ether lipids that play a role in diabesity and previous data show diminished plasmalogen levels in obese subjects. We therefore analyzed transcriptomic and lipidomic changes during monocyte-macrophage differentiation in vitro using a bioinformatic approach.
Elutriated monocytes from 13 healthy donors were differentiated in vitro to macrophages using rhM-CSF under serum-free conditions. Samples were taken on days 0, 1, 4 and 5 and analyzed for their lipidomic and transcriptomic profiles.
Gene expression analysis showed strong regulation of lipidome-related transcripts. Enzymes involved in fatty acid desaturation and elongation were increasingly expressed, peroxisomal and ER stress related genes were induced. Total plasmalogen levels remained unchanged, while the PE plasmalogen species pattern became more similar to circulating granulocytes, showing decreases in PUFA and increases in MUFA. A partial least squares discriminant analysis (PLS/DA) revealed that PE plasmalogens discriminate the stage of monocyte-derived macrophage differentiation. Partial correlation analysis could predict novel potential key nodes including DOCK1, PDK4, GNPTAB and FAM126A that might be involved in regulating lipid and especially plasmalogen homeostasis during differentiation. An in silico transcription analysis of lipid related regulation revealed known motifs such as PPAR-gamma and KLF4 as well as novel candidates such as NFY, RNF96 and Zinc-finger proteins.
Monocyte to macrophage differentiation goes along with profound changes in the lipid-related transcriptome. This leads to an induction of fatty-acid desaturation and elongation. In their PE-plasmalogen profile macrophages become more similar to granulocytes than monocytes, indicating terminal phagocytic differentiation. Therefore PE plasmalogens may represent potential biomarkers for cell activation. For the underlying transcriptional network we were able to predict a range of novel central key nodes and underlying transcription factors using a bioinformatic approach.
PMCID: PMC3979739  PMID: 24714687
15.  Study of caveolin-1 gene expression in whole adipose tissue and its subfractions and during differentiation of human adipocytes 
Caveolins are 21-24 kDa integral membrane proteins that serve as scaffolds to recruit numerous signaling molecules. Specific subclasses of caveolae carry out specific functions in cell metabolism. In particular, triglycerides are synthesized at the site of fatty acid entry in one of these caveolae classes.
Objective and Methods
We studied the expression of caveolin-1 (CAV-1) gene in association with metabolic variables in 90 visceral and 55 subcutaneous adipose tissue samples from subjects with a wide range of fat mass, in the stromovascular fraction (SVC) and isolated adipocytes, and during differentiation of human adipocytes.
CAV-1 gene expression was significantly decreased in visceral adipose tissue (v-CAV-1) of obese subjects. v-CAV-1 was positively associated with several lipogenic genes such as acetyl-coA carboxylase (ACACA, r = 0.34, p = 0.004) and spot-14 (r = 0.33, p = 0.004). In non-obese subjects v-CAV-1 also correlated with fatty acid synthase (FAS, r = 0.60, p < 0.0001). Subcutaneous (sc) adipose tissue (sc-CAV-1) gene expression was not associated with these lipogenic factors when obese and non-obese subjects were studied together. In obese subjects, however, sc-CAV-1 was associated with fatty acid synthase (FAS, r = 0.36, p = 0.02), sterol regulatory element binding protein-1c (SREBP-1c (r = 0.58, p < 0.0001), ACACA (r = 0.33, p = 0.03), spot-14 (r = 0.36, p = 0.02), PPAR-γ co-activator-1 (PGC-1, r = 0.88, n = 19). In these obese subjects, sc-CAV-1 was also associated with fasting triglycerides (r = -0.50, p < 0.0001).
CAV-1 expression in mature adipocytes was significantly higher than in stromal vascular cells. CAV-1 gene expression in adipocytes from subcutaneous adipose tissue (but not in adipocytes from visceral adipose tissue) was significatively associated with fasting triglycerides. CAV-1 gene expression did not change significantly during differentiation of human preadipocytes from lean or obese subjects despite significant increase of FAS gene expression.
Decreased CAV-1 gene expression was simultaneously linked to increased triglycerides and decreased lipogenic gene expression among obese subjects, paralleling the observations of hypertriglyceridemia in CAV-1 knockout mice. However, the regulation of CAV-1 gene expression seems independent of the adipogenic program.
PMCID: PMC2858724  PMID: 20226013
16.  Imaging Immune and Metabolic Cells of Visceral Adipose Tissues with Multimodal Nonlinear Optical Microscopy 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(6):e38418.
Visceral adipose tissue (VAT) inflammation is recognized as a mechanism by which obesity is associated with metabolic diseases. The communication between adipose tissue macrophages (ATMs) and adipocytes is important to understanding the interaction between immunity and energy metabolism and its roles in obesity-induced diseases. Yet visualizing adipocytes and macrophages in complex tissues is challenging to standard imaging methods. Here, we describe the use of a multimodal nonlinear optical (NLO) microscope to characterize the composition of VATs of lean and obese mice including adipocytes, macrophages, and collagen fibrils in a label-free manner. We show that lipid metabolism processes such as lipid droplet formation, lipid droplet microvesiculation, and free fatty acids trafficking can be dynamically monitored in macrophages and adipocytes. With its versatility, NLO microscopy should be a powerful imaging tool to complement molecular characterization of the immunity-metabolism interface.
PMCID: PMC3372513  PMID: 22701636
17.  Resolvin D1 and Resolvin D2 Govern Local Inflammatory Tone in Obese Fat1 
The unprecedented rise in the prevalence of obesity and obesity-related disorders is causally linked to a chronic state of low-grade inflammation in adipose tissue. Timely resolution of inflammation and return of this tissue to homeostasis are key to reducing obesity-induced metabolic dysfunctions. Here, with inflamed adipose, we investigated the biosynthesis, conversion and actions of Resolvin (Rv) D1 and RvD2, potent anti-inflammatory and pro-resolving lipid mediators (LM), and their ability to regulate monocyte interactions with adipocytes. LM-metabololipidomics identified RvD1 and RvD2 from endogenous sources in human and mouse adipose tissues. We also identified pro-resolving receptors (i.e. ALX/FPR2, ChemR23 and GPR32) in these tissues. Compared to lean tissue, obese adipose showed a deficit of these endogenous anti-inflammatory signals. With inflamed obese adipose tissue, RvD1 and RvD2 each rescued impaired expression and secretion of adiponectin in a time- and concentration-dependent manner while decreasing pro-inflammatory adipokine production including leptin, TNFα, IL-6 and IL-1β. RvD1 and RvD2 each reduced MCP-1 and leukotriene B4-stimulated monocyte adhesion to adipocytes and their transadipose migration. Adipose tissue rapidly converted both resolvins to novel oxo-resolvins. RvD2 was enzymatically converted to 7-oxo-RvD2 as its major metabolic route that retained adipose-directed RvD2 actions. These results indicate, in adipose, D-series resolvins (RvD1 and RvD2) are potent pro-resolving mediators that counteract both local adipokine production and monocyte accumulation in obesity-induced adipose inflammation.
PMCID: PMC3424332  PMID: 22844113
18.  Obesity and Weight Loss Result in Increased Adipose Tissue ABCG1 Expression in db/db Mice 
Biochimica et Biophysica Acta  2011;1821(3):425-434.
The prevalence of obesity has reached epidemic proportions and is associated with several co-morbid conditions including diabetes, dyslipidemia, cancer, atherosclerosis and gallstones. Obesity is associated with low systemic inflammation and an accumulation of adipose tissue macrophages (ATMs) that are thought to modulate insulin resistance. ATMs may also modulate adipocyte metabolism and take up lipids released during adipocyte lipolysis and cell death. We suggest that high levels of free cholesterol residing in adipocytes are released during these processes and contribute to ATM activation and accumulation during obesity and caloric restriction. Db/db mice were studied for extent of adipose tissue inflammation under feeding conditions of ad libitum (AL) and caloric restriction (CR). The major finding was a marked elevation in epididymal adipose ABCG1 mRNA levels with obesity and CR (6-fold and 16-fold, respectively) over that seen for lean wild-type mice. ABCG1 protein was also elevated for CR as compared to AL adipose tissue. ABCG1 is likely produced by cholesterol loaded ATMs since this gene is not highly expressed in adipocytes and ABCG1 expression is sterol mediated. Our data supports the concept that metabolic changes in adipocytes due to demand lipolysis and cell death lead to cholesterol loading of ATMs. Based on finding cholesterol-loaded peritoneal leukocytes with elevated levels of ABCG1 in CR as compared to AL mice, we suggest that pathways for cholesterol trafficking out of adipose tissue involve ATM egress as well as ABCG1 mediated cholesterol efflux.
PMCID: PMC3293702  PMID: 22179025
ABCG1; ABCA1; cholesterol efflux; obesity; caloric restriction; mice
19.  Topographical Body Fat Distribution Links to Amino Acid and Lipid Metabolism in Healthy Non-Obese Women 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(9):e73445.
Visceral adiposity is increasingly recognized as a key condition for the development of obesity related disorders, with the ratio between visceral adipose tissue (VAT) and subcutaneous adipose tissue (SAT) reported as the best correlate of cardiometabolic risk. In this study, using a cohort of 40 obese females (age: 25–45 y, BMI: 28–40 kg/m2) under healthy clinical conditions and monitored over a 2 weeks period we examined the relationships between different body composition parameters, estimates of visceral adiposity and blood/urine metabolic profiles. Metabonomics and lipidomics analysis of blood plasma and urine were employed in combination with in vivo quantitation of body composition and abdominal fat distribution using iDXA and computerized tomography. Of the various visceral fat estimates, VAT/SAT and VAT/total abdominal fat ratios exhibited significant associations with regio-specific body lean and fat composition. The integration of these visceral fat estimates with metabolic profiles of blood and urine described a distinct amino acid, diacyl and ether phospholipid phenotype in women with higher visceral fat. Metabolites important in predicting visceral fat adiposity as assessed by Random forest analysis highlighted 7 most robust markers, including tyrosine, glutamine, PC-O 44∶6, PC-O 44∶4, PC-O 42∶4, PC-O 40∶4, and PC-O 40∶3 lipid species. Unexpectedly, the visceral fat associated inflammatory profiles were shown to be highly influenced by inter-days and between-subject variations. Nevertheless, the visceral fat associated amino acid and lipid signature is proposed to be further validated for future patient stratification and cardiometabolic health diagnostics.
PMCID: PMC3770640  PMID: 24039943
20.  Differences in Muscle and Adipose Tissue Gene Expression and Cardio-Metabolic Risk Factors in the Members of Physical Activity Discordant Twin Pairs 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(9):e12609.
High physical activity/aerobic fitness predicts low morbidity and mortality. Our aim was to identify the most up-regulated gene sets related to long-term physical activity vs. inactivity in skeletal muscle and adipose tissues and to obtain further information about their link with cardio-metabolic risk factors. We studied ten same-sex twin pairs (age range 50–74 years) who had been discordant for leisure-time physical activity for 30 years. The examinations included biopsies from m. vastus lateralis and abdominal subcutaneous adipose tissue. RNA was analyzed with the genome-wide Illumina Human WG-6 v3.0 Expression BeadChip. For pathway analysis we used Gene Set Enrichment Analysis utilizing active vs. inactive co-twin gene expression ratios. Our findings showed that among the physically active members of twin pairs, as compared to their inactive co-twins, gene expression in the muscle tissue samples was chronically up-regulated for the central pathways related to energy metabolism, including oxidative phosphorylation, lipid metabolism and supportive metabolic pathways. Up-regulation of these pathways was associated in particular with aerobic fitness and high HDL cholesterol levels. In fat tissue we found physical activity-associated increases in the expression of polyunsaturated fatty acid metabolism and branched-chain amino acid degradation gene sets both of which associated with decreased ‘high-risk’ ectopic body fat and plasma glucose levels. Consistent with other findings, plasma lipidomics analysis showed up-regulation of the triacylglycerols containing the polyunsaturated fatty acids. Our findings identified skeletal muscle and fat tissue pathways which are associated with the long-term physical activity and reduced cardio-metabolic disease risk, including increased aerobic fitness. In particular, improved skeletal muscle oxidative energy and lipid metabolism as well as changes in adipocyte function and redistribution of body fat are associated with reduced cardio-metabolic risk.
PMCID: PMC2940764  PMID: 20862330
21.  Resolution of inflammation in obesity-induced liver disease 
Low-grade inflammation in adipose tissue is recognized as a critical event in the development of obesity-related co-morbidities. This chronic inflammation is powerfully augmented through the infiltration of macrophages, which together with adipocytes, perpetuate a vicious cycle of inflammatory cell recruitment and secretion of free fatty acids and deleterious adipokines that predispose to greater incidence of metabolic complications. In the last decade, many factors have been identified to contribute to mounting unresolved inflammation in obese adipose tissue. Among them, pro-inflammatory lipid mediators (i.e., leukotrienes) derived from the omega-6 polyunsaturated arachidonic acid have been shown to play a prominent role. Of note, the same lipid mediators that initially trigger the inflammatory response also signal its termination by stimulating the formation of anti-inflammatory signals. Resolvins and protectins derived from the omega-3 polyunsaturated docosahexaenoic and eicosapentaenoic acids have emerged as a representative family of this novel class of autacoids with dual anti-inflammatory and pro-resolving properties that act as “stop-signals” of the inflammatory response. This review discusses the participation of these endogenous autacoids in the resolution of adipose tissue inflammation, with a special emphasis in the amelioration of obesity-related metabolic dysfunctions, namely insulin resistance and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
PMCID: PMC3422856  PMID: 22934096
obesity; omega-6 fatty acids; eicosanoids; omega-3 fatty acids; resolvins; stromal-vascular macrophages; Kupffer cells
22.  Adipose Tissue Gene Expression of Factors Related to Lipid Processing in Obesity 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(9):e24783.
Adipose tissue lipid storage and processing capacity can be a key factor for obesity-related metabolic disorders such as insulin resistance and diabetes. Lipid uptake is the first step to adipose tissue lipid storage. The aim of this study was to analyze the gene expression of factors involved in lipid uptake and processing in subcutaneous (SAT) and visceral (VAT) adipose tissue according to body mass index (BMI) and the degree of insulin resistance (IR).
Methods and Principal Findings
VLDL receptor (VLDLR), lipoprotein lipase (LPL), acylation stimulating protein (ASP), LDL receptor-related protein 1 (LRP1) and fatty acid binding protein 4 (FABP4) gene expression was measured in VAT and SAT from 28 morbidly obese patients with Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus (T2DM) or high IR, 10 morbidly obese patients with low IR, 10 obese patients with low IR and 12 lean healthy controls. LPL, FABP4, LRP1 and ASP expression in VAT was higher in lean controls. In SAT, LPL and FABP4 expression were also higher in lean controls. BMI, plasma insulin levels and HOMA-IR correlated negatively with LPL expression in both VAT and SAT as well as with FABP4 expression in VAT. FABP4 gene expression in SAT correlated inversely with BMI and HOMA-IR. However, multiple regression analysis showed that BMI was the main variable contributing to LPL and FABP4 gene expression in both VAT and SAT.
Morbidly obese patients have a lower gene expression of factors related with lipid uptake and processing in comparison with healthy lean persons.
PMCID: PMC3178563  PMID: 21966368
23.  Dietary Alleviation of Maternal Obesity and Diabetes: Increased Resistance to Diet-Induced Obesity Transcriptional and Epigenetic Signatures 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(6):e66816.
According to the developmental origins of health and diseases (DOHaD), and in line with the findings of many studies, obesity during pregnancy is clearly a threat to the health and well-being of the offspring, later in adulthood. We previously showed that 20% of male and female inbred mice can cope with the obesogenic effects of a high-fat diet (HFD) for 20 weeks after weaning, remaining lean. However the feeding of a control diet (CD) to DIO mice during the periconceptional/gestation/lactation period led to a pronounced sex-specific shift (17% to 43%) from susceptibility to resistance to HFD, in the female offspring only. Our aim in this study was to determine how, in the context of maternal obesity and T2D, a CD could increase resistance on female fetuses. Transcriptional analyses were carried out with a custom-built mouse liver microarray and by quantitative RT-PCR for muscle and adipose tissue. Both global DNA methylation and levels of pertinent histone marks were assessed by LUMA and western blotting, and the expression of 15 relevant genes encoding chromatin-modifying enzymes was analyzed in tissues presenting global epigenetic changes. Resistance was associated with an enhancement of hepatic pathways protecting against steatosis, the unexpected upregulation of neurotransmission-related genes and the modulation of a vast imprinted gene network. Adipose tissue displayed a pronounced dysregulation of gene expression, with an upregulation of genes involved in lipid storage and adipocyte hypertrophy or hyperplasia in obese mice born to lean and obese mothers, respectively. Global DNA methylation, several histone marks and key epigenetic regulators were also altered. Whether they were themselves lean (resistant) or obese (sensitive), the offspring of lean and obese mice clearly differed in terms of several metabolic features and epigenetic marks suggesting that the effects of a HFD depend on the leanness or obesity of the mother.
PMCID: PMC3691260  PMID: 23826145
24.  Myostatin Inhibition in Muscle, but Not Adipose Tissue, Decreases Fat Mass and Improves Insulin Sensitivity 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(3):e4937.
Myostatin (Mstn) is a secreted growth factor expressed in skeletal muscle and adipose tissue that negatively regulates skeletal muscle mass. Mstn−/− mice have a dramatic increase in muscle mass, reduction in fat mass, and resistance to diet-induced and genetic obesity. To determine how Mstn deletion causes reduced adiposity and resistance to obesity, we analyzed substrate utilization and insulin sensitivity in Mstn−/− mice fed a standard chow. Despite reduced lipid oxidation in skeletal muscle, Mstn−/− mice had no change in the rate of whole body lipid oxidation. In contrast, Mstn−/− mice had increased glucose utilization and insulin sensitivity as measured by indirect calorimetry, glucose and insulin tolerance tests, and hyperinsulinemic-euglycemic clamp. To determine whether these metabolic effects were due primarily to the loss of myostatin signaling in muscle or adipose tissue, we compared two transgenic mouse lines carrying a dominant negative activin IIB receptor expressed specifically in adipocytes or skeletal muscle. We found that inhibition of myostatin signaling in adipose tissue had no effect on body composition, weight gain, or glucose and insulin tolerance in mice fed a standard diet or a high-fat diet. In contrast, inhibition of myostatin signaling in skeletal muscle, like Mstn deletion, resulted in increased lean mass, decreased fat mass, improved glucose metabolism on standard and high-fat diets, and resistance to diet-induced obesity. Our results demonstrate that Mstn−/− mice have an increase in insulin sensitivity and glucose uptake, and that the reduction in adipose tissue mass in Mstn−/− mice is an indirect result of metabolic changes in skeletal muscle. These data suggest that increasing muscle mass by administration of myostatin antagonists may be a promising therapeutic target for treating patients with obesity or diabetes.
PMCID: PMC2654157  PMID: 19295913
25.  Immunometabolism in Obese Asthmatics: Are We There Yet? 
Nutrients  2013;5(9):3506-3530.
Obesity is now recognised as a worldwide epidemic. The recent International Association for the Study of Obesity/International Obesity Taskforce (IASO/IOTF) analysis estimates that approximately 1.0 billion adults are currently overweight and a further 475 million are obese. Obesity has huge psychosocial impact with obese children and adolescents facing discrimination and stigmatization in many areas of their lives leading to body dissatisfaction, low self-esteem and depression. Indeed, obesity is recognised as an important risk factor for the development of several chronic diseases such as hypertension, cancer, asthma and metabolic syndrome. Chronic low grade systemic inflammation is considered as a hallmark of obesity and may possibly explain the link between obesity and chronic disease, in particular the increased incidence, prevalence and severity of asthma in obese individuals. There is now strong evidence for infiltration of immune and inflammatory cells into adipose tissue that drives systemic inflammation and subsequent end organ damage. In addition to adipocytes, the key adipose tissue resident immune cells are macrophages and mast cells. Immunometabolism, as an emerging field of investigation, explores the pivotal role of these immune cells in translating immunological changes to metabolic effects in obesity. Abundance of free fatty acids, along with other inflammatory cytokines shift the balance of metabolic homeostasis to pro-inflammatory status by influencing the development of inflammatory cell lineage, which, further exhibits distinct functional phenotypes. There is emerging evidence for macrophage activation and functional polarization of an anti-inflammatory M2 phenotype towards a pro-inflammatory M1 phenotype of macrophages in obese adipose tissue. Similarly, studies in both obese humans and murine models reveal the pathognomic presence of an increased number of mast cells in visceral adipose tissue. These suggest a possible contribution of mast cells to the unique metabolome of obese asthma. This review examines proposed multilevel interactions between metabolic and immune systems in obese asthmatics that underlie the negative effects of obesity and may offer significant therapeutic promise.
PMCID: PMC3798918  PMID: 24025484
obesity; immunometabolism; macrophages; mast cells; asthma

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