Iria Nieto-Vazquez, Sonia Fernández-Veledo, David K. Krämer,Rocio Vila-Bedmar, Lucia Garcia-Guerra & Margarita Lorenzo


Adipose tissue secretes proteins which may influence insulin sensitivity. Among them, tumour necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha has been proposed as a link between obesity and insulin resistance because TNF-alpha is overexpressed in adipose tissue from obese animals and humans, and obese mice lacking either TNF-alpha or its receptor show protection against developing insulin resistance.

The activation of proinflammatory pathways after exposure to TNF-alpha induces a state of insulin resistance in terms of glucose uptake in myocytes and adipocytes that impair insulin signalling at the level of the insulin receptor substrate (IRS) proteins. The mechanism found in brown adipocytes involves Ser phosphorylation of IRS-2 mediated by TNF-alpha activation of MAPKs. The Ser307 residue in IRS-1 has been identified as a site for the inhibitory effects of TNF-alpha in myotubes, with p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) and inhibitor kB kinase being involved in the phosphorylation of this residue.

Moreover, up-regulation of protein-tyrosine phosphatase (PTP)1B expression was recently found in cells and animals treated with TNF-alpha. PTP1B acts as a physiological negative regulator of insulin signalling by dephosphorylating the phosphotyrosine residues of the insulin receptor and IRS-1, and PTP1B expression is increased in peripheral tissues from obese and diabetic humans and rodents.

Accordingly, down-regulation of PTP1B activity by treatment with pharmacological agonists of nuclear receptors restores insulin sensitivity in the presence of TNF-alpha. Furthermore, mice and cells deficient in PTP1B are protected against insulin resistance induced by this cytokine.

In conclusion, the absence or inhibition of PTP1B in insulin-target tissues could confer protection against insulin resistance induced by cytokines.