Etiology of the metabolic syndrome: Potential role of insulin resistance, leptin resistance, and other players

Paul Zimmet, E. J. Boyko, G. R. Collier, M. De Courten

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Obesity and Type 2 diabetes are now major public health issues in developed nations and have reached epidemic proportions in many developing nations, as well as disadvantaged groups in developed countries, e.g., Mexican-Americans, African-Americans, and Australian Aborigines. These groups all show hyperinsulinemia and insulin resistance, which have been demonstrated to be future predictors of Type 2 diabetes and have also been suggested as key factors in the etiology of the Metabolic Syndrome. It is now increasingly recognized that Type 2 diabetes is part of a cluster of cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors comprising the Metabolic Syndrome. This group is at very high risk of atherosclerosis because each of the risk factors in the Metabolic Syndrome cluster in its own right is an important CVD risk factor. They also contribute cumulatively to atherosclerosis. A key strategy in reducing macrovascular disease lies in the better understanding of the Metabolic Syndrome - glucose intolerance, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and central obesity. Although it has been suggested that hyperinsulinemia/insulin resistance is the central etiological factor for the Metabolic Syndrome, epidemiological data do not support the idea that this can account for all of the cluster abnormalities. We have animal and human data suggesting that hyperleptinemia rather than, or synergistically with, hyperinsulinemia may play a central role in the genesis of the CVD risk factor cluster that constitutes the syndrome. Studies in Psammomys obesus (the Israeli sand rat) suggest hyperinsulinemia/insulin resistance is an early metabolic lesion in the development of obesity and Type 2 diabetes. This animal also develops other features of the Metabolic Syndrome, making it an excellent model to investigate etiology. Psammomys, when placed on an ad libitum laboratory diet, develops hyperinsulinemia, insulin resistance, impaired glucose tolerance, diabetes, and dyslipidemia. It also develops hyperleptinemia and leptin insensitivity, and hyperleptinemia is correlated with insulin resistance independent of changes in body weight. It is likely that a similar sequence occurs in the transition from the prediabetic state to Type 2 diabetes in humans. More recently, other potential players in the etiology of the Metabolic Syndrome have been suggested including endothelial dysfunction and acetylation-stimulating protein (ASP). It has been suggested that endothelial dysfunction may be an antecedent for both Type 2 diabetes and the Metabolic Syndrome. In addition, ASP is a serious new candidate for an important role in insulin resistance. The ASP pathway plays a critical role in fatty acid metabolism and storage, and it has been suggested that ineffective storage of fatty acids by adipocytes due to a defect in the ASP pathway may lead to insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)25-44
Number of pages20
JournalAnnals of the New York Academy of Sciences
Publication statusPublished - 1999
Externally publishedYes

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