Effects of dietary fatty acids on insulin sensitivity and secretion

Melania Manco, Menotti Calvani, Geltrude Mingrone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Globalization and global market have contributed to increased consumption of high-fat, energy-dense diets, particularly rich in saturated fatty acids( SFAs). Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) regulate fuel partitioning within the cells by inducing their own oxidation through the reduction of lipogenic gene expression and the enhancement of the expression of those genes controlling lipid oxidation and thermogenesis. Moreover, PUFAs prevent insulin resistance by increasing membrane fluidity and GLUT4 transport. In contrast, SFAs are stored in non-adipocyte cells as triglycerides (TG) leading to cellular damage as a sequence of their lipotoxicity. Triglyceride accumulation in skeletal muscle cells (IMTG) derives from increased FA uptake coupled with deficient FA oxidation. High levels of circulating FAs enhance the expression of FA translocase the FA transport proteins within the myocites. The biochemical mechanisms responsible for lower fatty acid oxidation involve reduced carnitine palmitoyl transferase (CPT) activity, as a likely consequence of increased intracellular concentrations of malonyl-CoA; reduced glycogen synthase activity; and impairment of insulin signalling and glucose transport. The depletion of IMTG depots is strictly associated with an improvement of insulin sensitivity, via a reduced acetyl-CoA carboxylase (ACC) mRNA expression and an increased GLUT4 expression and pyruvate dehydrogenase (PDH) activity. In pancreatic islets, TG accumulation causes impairment of insulin secretion. In rat models, β-cell dysfunction is related to increased triacylglycerol content in islets, increased production of nitric oxide, ceramide synthesis and β-cell apoptosis. The decreased insulin gene promoter activity and binding of the pancreas-duodenum homeobox-1 (PDX-1) transcription factor to the insulin gene seem to mediate TG effect in islets. In humans, acute and prolonged effects of FAs on glucose-stimulated insulin secretion have been widely investigated as well as the effect of high-fat diets on insulin sensitivity and secretion and on the development of type 2 diabetes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)402-413
Number of pages12
JournalDiabetes, Obesity and Metabolism
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2004


  • Fatty acids
  • Insulin secretion
  • Insulin sensitivity
  • Muscle triglycerides

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine
  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism


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