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Integrative Biology

Defective regulation of adipose tissue autophagy in obesity



Autophagy is a highly regulated process that has an important role in the control of a wide range of cellular functions, such as organelle recycling, nutrient availability and tissue differentiation. A recent study has shown an increased autophagic activity in the adipose tissue of obese subjects, and a role for autophagy in obesity-associated insulin resistance was proposed. Body mass reduction is the most efficient approach to tackle insulin resistance in over-weight subjects; however, the impact of weight loss in adipose tissue autophagy is unknown.


Adipose tissue autophagy was evaluated in mice and humans.


First, a mouse model of diet-induced obesity and diabetes was maintained on a 15-day, 40% caloric restriction. At baseline, markers of autophagy were increased in obese mice as compared with lean controls. Upon caloric restriction, autophagy increased in the lean mice, whereas it decreased in the obese mice. The reintroduction of ad libitum feeding was sufficient to rapidly reduce autophagy in the lean mice and increase autophagy in the obese mice. In the second part of the study, autophagy was evaluated in the subcutaneous adipose tissue of nine obese-non-diabetic and six obese-diabetic subjects undergoing bariatric surgery for body mass reduction. Specimens were collected during the surgery and approximately 1 year later. Markers of systemic inflammation, such as tumor necrosis factor-1α, interleukin (IL)-6 and IL-1β were evaluated. As in the mouse model, human obesity was associated with increased autophagy, and body mass reduction led to an attenuation of autophagy in the adipose tissue.


Obesity and caloric overfeeding are associated with the defective regulation of autophagy in the adipose tissue. The studies in obese-diabetic subjects undergoing improved metabolic control following calorie restriction suggest that autophagy and inflammation are regulated independently.

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We thank Dr ER Roman, Mr JG Ferraz and Mr M Cruz from the University of Campinas for technical assistance. We thank Dr N Conran for editing the English grammar. The support for the study was provided by Fundação de Amparo a Pesquisa do Estado de Sao Paulo and Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Cientifico e Tecnologico.

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Correspondence to E P Araujo.

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Nuñez, C., Rodrigues, V., Gomes, F. et al. Defective regulation of adipose tissue autophagy in obesity. Int J Obes 37, 1473–1480 (2013).

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  • beclin
  • p62
  • mTOR
  • PERK
  • GPR78
  • CHOP

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