Changes in Subcutaneous Fat Cell Volume and Insulin Sensitivity After Weight Loss

  1. Peter Arner1
  1. 1Department of Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden
  2. 2Department of Surgery, Karolinska Institutet, Ersta Hospital, Stockholm, Sweden
  3. 3Department of Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, Ersta Hospital, Stockholm, Sweden
  4. 4Department of Clinical Sciences, Danderyd Hospital, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden
  5. 5Department of Surgery, Södertälje Hospital, Södertälje, Sweden
  6. 6Department of Surgery, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden
  1. Corresponding author: Peter Arner, peter.arner{at}


OBJECTIVE Large subcutaneous fat cells associate with insulin resistance and high risk of developing type 2 diabetes. We investigated if changes in fat cell volume and fat mass correlate with improvements in the metabolic risk profile after bariatric surgery in obese patients.

RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODS Fat cell volume and number were measured in abdominal subcutaneous adipose tissue in 62 obese women before and 2 years after Roux-en-Y gastric bypass (RYGB). Regional body fat mass by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry; insulin sensitivity by hyperinsulinemic-euglycemic clamp; and plasma glucose, insulin, and lipid profile were assessed.

RESULTS RYGB decreased body weight by 33%, which was accompanied by decreased adipocyte volume but not number. Fat mass in the measured regions decreased and all metabolic parameters were improved after RYGB (P < 0.0001). Whereas reduced subcutaneous fat cell size correlated strongly with improved insulin sensitivity (P = 0.0057), regional changes in fat mass did not, except for a weak correlation between changes in visceral fat mass, insulin sensitivity, and triglycerides. The curve-linear relationship between fat cell size and fat mass was altered after weight loss (P = 0.03).

CONCLUSIONS After bariatric surgery in obese women, a reduction in subcutaneous fat cell volume associates more strongly with improvement of insulin sensitivity than fat mass reduction per se. An altered relationship between adipocyte size and fat mass may be important for improving insulin sensitivity after weight loss. Fat cell size reduction could constitute a target to improve insulin sensitivity.

  • Received October 15, 2013.
  • Accepted March 12, 2014.

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