Tumor necrosis factor-α and ceramides in insulin resistance

Research paper by David N. Brindley, Chuen-Neu Wang, Jie Mei, James Xu, Atef N. Hanna

Indexed on: 01 Jan '99Published on: 01 Jan '99Published in: Lipids


The present studies tested the hypothesis that some effects of tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α) are mediated by activation of sphingomyelinases and the production of ceramides. Differentiated 3T3-L1 adipocytes were incubated with short-chain ceramide analogs, (C2- and C6-ceramides:N-acetyl- andN-hexanoyl-sphingosines, respectively), and this treatment increased 2-deoxyglucose uptake in the absence of insulin progressively from 2–24 h. This effect was inhibited by blocking the activations of mitogen-activated protein kinase, phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI 3-kinase), and ribosomal S6 kinase which mediated an increase in GLUT1 concentrations. Long-term increases in PI 3-kinase activity associated with insulin receptor substrate-1 (IRS-1) increased the proportion of GLUT1 and GLUT4 in plasma membranes. These events explain the increases in noninsulin-dependent glucose uptake and incorporation of this glucose into the fatty acid and glycerol moieties of triacylglycerol. The mechanisms by which TNF-α and ceramides increase PI 3-kinase activity were investigated further by using rat2 fibroblasts. Incubation for 20 min with TNF-α, bacterial sphingomyelinase, or C2-ceramides increased PI 3-kinase activity by about fivefold, and this effect depended upon a stimulation of tyrosine kinase activity and an increase in Ras-GTP. This demonstrates the existence of a novel signaling pathway for TNF-α that could contribute to the effects of this cytokine in stimulating basal glucose uptake. By contrast, treating the 3T3-L1 adipocytes for 2–24 h with C2-ceramide diminished insulin-stimulated glucose uptake by decreasing the insulin-induced translocation of GLUT1 and GLUT4 to plasma membranes. This inhibition was observed when there was no increase in basal glucose uptake, and it occurred downstream of PI 3-kinase. Our work provides further mechanisms whereby TNF-α and ceramides produce insulin resistance and decrease the effectiveness of insulin in stimulating glucose disposal from the blood. Conversely, TNF-α and ceramides increase the ability of adipocytes to take up glucose and store triacylglycerol in the absence of insulin.