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DC Howe, A Gertler and Challis JR

The obese gene product leptin, originally characterised as an adipocyte hormone coordinating the behavioural and neuroendocrine responses to starvation, is expressed in fetal adipocytes and placental trophoblast cells and is present in the fetal circulation. Concentrations of leptin in fetal blood correlate with fetal bodyweight and fat mass. In post-natal life, leptin conveys information about calorie intake and the state of adipose tissue energy stores, and plasma leptin levels are generally inversely correlated with hypothalamo-pituitary adrenal (HPA) activity. Late fetal life is characterised by increasing HPA activity that prepares the fetus for extrauterine life and initiates the endocrine cascade leading to parturition. We have investigated the hypothesis that leptin in the fetal circulation can inhibit the fetal HPA axis, thereby providing a mechanism by which the fetus can determine the fine timing of parturition as long as it is adequately nourished and growing appropriately. Here we show that a 5-day intracerebroventricular infusion of leptin to the sheep fetus in late gestation inhibits the pre-parturient rise in ACTH and cortisol concentrations, and that this seems to be a centrally mediated effect.

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Zhe-Zhen Liao, Xiao-Yan Qi, Ya-Di Wang, Jiao-Yang Li, Qian-Qian Gu, Can Hu, Yin Hu, Heng Sun, Li Ran, Jing Yang, Jiang-Hua Liu and Xin-Hua Xiao

Remodeling of energy-storing white fat into energy-consuming beige fat has led to a promising new approach to alleviate adiposity. Several studies have shown adipokines can induce white adipose tissue (WAT) beiging through autocrine or paracrine actions. Betatrophin, a novel adipokine, has been linked to energy expenditure and lipolysis but not clearly clarified. Here, we using high-fat diet-induced obesity to determine how betatrophin modulate beiging and adiposity. We found that betatrophin-knockdown mice displayed less white fat mass and decreased plasma TG and NEFA levels. Consistently, inhibition of betatrophin leads to the phenotype change of adipocytes characterized by increased mitochondria contents, beige adipocytes and mitochondria biogenesis-specific markers both in vivo and in vitro. Of note, blocking AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) signaling pathway is able to abolish enhanced beige-like characteristics in betatrophin-knockdown adipocytes. Collectively, downregulation of betatrophin induces beiging in white adipocytes through activation of AMPK signaling pathway. These processes suggest betatrophin as a latent therapeutic target for obesity.

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Janet M. Nolin, Betty J. Thompson and Stuart Smith

Two approaches were used to establish the intercellular distribution of fatty acid synthetase and thioesterase II in the lactating rat mammary gland. Thioesterase II is the chain-length regulatory enzyme in the biosynthesis of the medium-chain fatty acids characteristic of milk fat. Using immunohistochemical techniques, immunoreactive fatty acid synthetase was found in both mammary adipocytes and epithelial cells; in contrast, immunoreactive thioesterase II was confined to the epithelial cells. In metabolic studies, adipocytes and epithelial cells were isolated from lactating rat mammary glands after digestion with collagenase and thermolysin, and their lipogenic activity was studied using isotopically labelled acetate. Consistent with the immunohistochemical data, adipocytes synthesized exclusively long-chain fatty acids whereas epithelial cells synthesized predominantly medium-chain fatty acids. The results indicate that the capacity for synthesis of medium-chain fatty acids is a unique property of the epithelial cell component of the mammary gland.

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Xiao-Bing Cui, Jun-Na Luan, Jianping Ye and Shi-You Chen

Obesity is an important independent risk factor for type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and many other chronic diseases. Adipose tissue inflammation is a critical link between obesity and insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes and a contributor to disease susceptibility and progression. The objective of this study was to determine the role of response gene to complement 32 (RGC32) in the development of obesity and insulin resistance. WT and RGC32 knockout (Rgc32 −/− (Rgcc)) mice were fed normal chow or high-fat diet (HFD) for 12 weeks. Metabolic, biochemical, and histologic analyses were performed. 3T3-L1 preadipocytes were used to study the role of RGC32 in adipocytes in vitro. Rgc32 −/− mice fed with HFD exhibited a lean phenotype with reduced epididymal fat weight compared with WT controls. Blood biochemical analysis and insulin tolerance test showed that RGC32 deficiency improved HFD-induced dyslipidemia and insulin resistance. Although it had no effect on adipocyte differentiation, RGC32 deficiency ameliorated adipose tissue and systemic inflammation. Moreover, Rgc32 −/− induced browning of adipose tissues and increased energy expenditure. Our data indicated that RGC32 plays an important role in diet-induced obesity and insulin resistance, and thus it may serve as a potential novel drug target for developing therapeutics to treat obesity and metabolic disorders.

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M Fasshauer, S Kralisch, M Klier, U Lossner, M Bluher, J Klein and R Paschke

Various cytokines, including tumor necrosis factor (TNF) alpha, growth hormone (GH) and interleukin (IL)-6, induce insulin resistance. Recently, it was demonstrated that induction of suppressor of cytokine signaling (SOCS)-3 by TNFalpha and GH is an important mechanism by which these cytokines impair insulin sensitivity. The current study investigated in 3T3-L1 adipocytes whether TNFalpha and GH also upregulate SOCS-1 and SOCS-6, which have both been shown to inhibit insulin signaling potently, and whether IL-6 might alter synthesis of SOCS-1, -3 and -6. Interestingly, 10 ng/ml TNFalpha, 500 ng/ml GH and 30 ng/ml IL-6 induced SOCS-1 mRNA time-dependently with maximal stimulation detectable after 8 h of TNFalpha and 1 h of GH and IL-6 addition respectively. Furthermore, TNFalpha and GH caused sustained upregulation of SOCS-1 for up to 24 h, whereas stimulation by IL-6 was only transient, with SOCS-1 mRNA returning to basal levels 2 h after effector addition. Induction of SOCS-1 was dose-dependent, and significant stimulation was detectable at concentrations as low as 3 ng/ml TNFalpha, 50 ng/ml GH and 10 ng/ml IL-6. Furthermore, stimulation experiments and studies using pharmacologic inhibitors suggested that the positive effect of TNFalpha, GH and IL-6 on SOCS-1 mRNA is, at least in part, mediated by Janus kinase (Jak) 2. Finally, SOCS-3 expression was dose- and time-dependently induced by IL-6, at least in part via Jak2, but none of the cytokines affected SOCS-6 expression. Taken together, our results show a differential regulation of SOCS mRNA by insulin resistance-inducing hormones, and suggest that SOCS-1, as well as SOCS-3, may be an important intracellular mediator of insulin resistance in fat cells and a potential pharmacologic target for the treatment of impaired insulin sensitivity.

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Saad A Amer, Nadia G Alzanati, Avril Warren, Rebecca Tarbox and Raheela Khan

The purpose of this study was to investigate androgen production and the role of insulin and LH in its regulation in subcutaneous adipose tissue (SAT) of women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Protein and mRNA expression of androgen synthesis enzymes (cytochrome P450 17A1 (CYP17A1) and aldo-keto reductase 1C3 (AKR1C3)) were measured in SAT biopsies from women with PCOS, diagnosed according to the Rotterdam criteria (n = 15) and healthy controls (n = 15). Cultured mature adipocytes (differentiated from SAT biopsies) were treated with insulin ± phosphoinositol-3-kinase inhibitor (LY294002) or LH ± insulin. CYP17A1 and AKR1C3 mRNA expression and testosterone concentrations were measured in treated and untreated adipocyte cultures. AKR1C3 mRNA was significantly (P < 0.001) greater in PCOS vs non-PCOS SAT, but CYP17A1 was not significantly different between the two groups. AKR1C3 and CYP17A1 protein expression was not significantly different in PCOS vs non-PCOS SAT. In untreated adipocyte cultures, CYP17A1, AKR1C3 and testosterone levels were significantly higher in the PCOS vs the non-PCOS groups. Addition of insulin increased AKR1C3 mRNA and testosterone levels, but not CYP17A1 mRNA in non-PCOS with no effect on PCOS adipocytes. The stimulatory effects of insulin were not inhibited by LY294002. Addition of LH increased CYP17A1, AKR1C3 and testosterone in non-PCOS adipocytes with no effect in PCOS adipocytes. In conclusion, SAT of women with PCOS produces excess androgen, which may contribute to PCOS-related hyperandrogenaemia. This SAT androgen excess is independent of obesity and is not directly stimulated by inulin or LH.

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CP Sewter, JE Digby, F Blows, J Prins and S O'Rahilly

Tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), secreted by cells of the macrophage-monocyte lineage, has a well established role in inflammation and host-defence. The more recent discovery that adipocytes also secrete TNF-alpha has led to a substantial body of research implicating this molecule in the insulin resistance of obesity. However, little is known about the normal regulation of TNF-alpha release from human adipose tissue. In particular, it is not known whether adipocyte production of TNF-alpha is responsive to similar or different molecular regulators than those relevant to macrophages. TNF-alpha release from cultured human adipose tissue and isolated adipocytes was examined using an ELISA. Insulin, cortisol or the thiazolidinedione, BRL 49653, did not have a significant effect on TNF-alpha release from adipose tissue or isolated adipocytes. In contrast, lipopolysaccharide (LPS), a major stimulus of TNF-alpha protein production in monocytes and macrophages, resulted in a fivefold stimulation of TNF-alpha release from human adipose tissue. Significant stimulation of TNF-alpha release was also seen from isolated adipocytes, indicating that the increase in TNF-alpha release from adipose tissue in the presence of LPS is unlikely to be entirely attributable to contaminating monocytes or macrophages. Consistent with this observation was the finding that mRNA for CD14, a known cellular receptor for LPS, is expressed in human adipocytes. The increase in TNF-alpha protein release in response to LPS was blocked by an inhibitor of the matrix metalloproteinase responsible for the cleavage of the membrane-bound proform of TNF-alpha, indicating that this release represented regulated secretion and was not due to cell lysis. In conclusion, the regulation of TNF-alpha protein release from human adipose tissue and isolated adipocytes appears to be similar to its regulation in cell types more traditionally implicated in host defence. The production by the adipocyte of a range of molecules involved in host defence-TNF-alpha, factors D, B and C3, interleukin-6, and macrophage colony-stimulating factor--suggest that this cell type may make a significant contribution to innate immunity.

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A D Dobrian, M A Hatcher, J J Brotman, E V Galkina, P Taghavie-Moghadam, H Pei, B A Haynes and J L Nadler

Adipose tissue (AT) inflammation is an emerging factor contributing to cardiovascular disease. STAT4 is a transcription factor expressed in adipocytes and in immune cells and contributes to AT inflammation and insulin resistance in obesity. The objective of this study was to determine the effect of STAT4 deficiency on visceral and peri-aortic AT inflammation in a model of atherosclerosis without obesity. Stat4 −/− Apoe −/− mice and Apoe −/− controls were kept either on chow or Western diet for 12 weeks. Visceral and peri-aortic AT were collected and analyzed for immune composition by flow cytometry and for cytokine/chemokine expression by real-time PCR. Stat4 −/− Apoe −/− and Apoe −/− mice had similar body weight, plasma glucose, and lipids. Western diet significantly increased macrophage, CD4+, CD8+, and NK cells in peri-aortic and visceral fat in Apoe −/− mice. In contrast, in Stat4 −/− Apoe −/− mice, a Western diet failed to increase the percentage of immune cells infiltrating the AT. Also, IL12p40, TNFa, CCL5, CXCL10, and CX3CL1 were significantly reduced in the peri-aortic fat in Stat4 −/− Apoe −/− mice. Importantly, Stat4 −/− Apoe −/− mice on a Western diet had significantly reduced plaque burden vs Apoe −/− controls. In conclusion, STAT4 deletion reduces inflammation in peri-vascular and visceral AT and this may contribute via direct or indirect effects to reduced atheroma formation.

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E Guillod-Maximin, A F Roy, C M Vacher, A Aubourg, V Bailleux, A Lorsignol, L Pénicaud, M Parquet and M Taouis

Adiponectin is involved in the control of energy homeostasis in peripheral tissues through Adipor1 and Adipor2 receptors. An increasing amount of evidence suggests that this adipocyte-secreted hormone may also act at the hypothalamic level to control energy homeostasis. In the present study, we observed the gene and protein expressions of Adipor1 and Adipor2 in rat hypothalamus using different approaches. By immunohistochemistry, Adipor1 expression was ubiquitous in the rat brain. By contrast, Adipor2 expression was more limited to specific brain areas such as hypothalamus, cortex, and hippocampus. In arcuate and paraventricular hypothalamic nuclei, Adipor1, and Adipor2 were expressed by neurons and astrocytes. Furthermore, using transgenic green fluorescent protein mice, we showed that Adipor1 and Adipor2 were present in pro–opiomelanocortin (POMC) and neuropeptide Y (NPY) neurons in the arcuate nucleus. Finally, adiponectin treatment by intracerebroventricular injection induced AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) phosphorylation in the rat hypothalamus. This was confirmed by in vitro studies using hypothalamic membrane fractions. In conclusion, Adipor1 and Adipor2 are both expressed by neurons (including POMC and NPY neurons) and astrocytes in the rat hypothalamic nuclei. Adiponectin is able to increase AMPK phosphorylation in the rat hypothalamus. These data reinforced a potential role of adiponectin and its hypothalamic receptors in the control of energy homeostasis.

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Steve O'Rahilly

This special issue of Journal of Endocrinology celebrates the 20th anniversary of the discovery of leptin, a hormone produced by adipose tissue, which provides critical signals to the organism regarding the status of its energy stores. The discovery of leptin not only revolutionised our understanding of endocrine physiology but has also resulted in a registered medicinal product which is already improving the health of patients with serious metabolic diseases. In this issue, we have gathered together a group of essays by some of the world leaders in leptin research, including an overview by Dr Jeffrey Friedman who, in his seminal article in December 1994, described the adipocyte-derived hormone, the lack of which was responsible for the severe obesity in ob/ob mice and suggested that it should be named leptin.