In a state of caloric excess, adipose tissue plays an essential role by storing lipids. Its expandability determines the onset of metabolic syndrome (central obesity, dyslipidemia, glucose intolerance and hypertension). When the adipocyte endoplasmic reticulum is no longer capable of processing the excess nutrients, the so-called “endoplasmic reticulum stress” develops. This triggers efflux of free fatty acids from adipocytes into the circulation and causes triglyceride overload in skeletal muscle, liver and pancreas. Adipose tissue hypoxia then develops, due to the failure of vasculature to expand with adipocyte hypertrophy. Increased catabolism in mitochondria leads there to oxidative stress. Both phenomena cause deranged adipokine secretion and low-grade inflammation. Inflammatory cytokines, reactive oxygen species and ectopic lipid deposition are the main mediators of insulin resistance and vascular impairment, which both lead finally to diabetes type 2 and cardiovascular disease. Recently, fibrosis of adipose tissue was also demonstrated in obesity, contributing to the interplay of deleterious factors forcing inflammation. The present paper reviews recent evidence for adipose tissue dysfunction, trying to define causes and consequences. In conclusion, insulin resistance and associated complications originate from excess lipids, which cannot be stored without limit in adipose tissue, thus affecting its integrity and adipokine secretion.
©2011 by Walter de Gruyter Berlin Boston