Increased activity of the innate immune system has been implicated in the pathogenesis of the dyslipidemia and insulin resistance associated with obesity and type 2 diabetes. In this study, we addressed the potential role of Kupffer cells (liver-specific macrophages, KCs) in these metabolic abnormalities.


Rats were depleted of KCs by administration of gadolinium chloride, after which all animals were exposed to a 2-week high-fat or high-sucrose diet. Subsequently, the effects of these interventions on the development of hepatic insulin resistance and steatosis were assessed. In further studies, the effects of M1-polarized KCs on hepatocyte lipid metabolism and insulin sensitivity were addressed.


As expected, a high-fat or high-sucrose diet induced steatosis and hepatic insulin resistance. However, these metabolic abnormalities were prevented when liver was depleted of KCs. In vitro, KCs recapitulated the in vivo effects of diet by increasing hepatocyte triglyceride accumulation and fatty acid esterification, and decreasing fatty acid oxidation and insulin responsiveness. To address the mechanisms(s) of KC action, we inhibited a panel of cytokines using neutralizing antibodies. Only neutralizing antibodies against tumor necrosis factor- (TNF) attenuated KC-induced alterations in hepatocyte fatty acid oxidation, triglyceride accumulation, and insulin responsiveness. Importantly, KC TNF levels were increased by diet in vivo and in isolated M1-polarized KCs in vitro.


These data demonstrate a role for liver macrophages in diet-induced alterations in hepatic lipid metabolism and insulin sensitivity, and suggest a role for these cells in the etiology of the metabolic abnormalities of obesity/type 2 diabetes.


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