Fetuin-A levels are increased in the adipose tissue of diabetic obese humans but not in circulation

Abdelkrim Khadir, Sina Kavalakatt, Dhanya Madhu, Maha Hammad, Devarajan Sriraman, Jaakko Tuomilehto, Ali Tiss

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16 Citations (Scopus)


Background: The hepatokine fetuin-A is linked to obesity and type 2 diabetes, but its presence and expression in adipose tissue remain unclear. In this study, we aimed to assess the circulating levels of fetuin-A and its expression in subcutaneous adipose tissue (SAT) from diabetic and non-diabetic obese subjects and their modulation by exercise. Methods: SAT and blood were obtained from adults obese (diabetic, n=118 and non-diabetic, n=166) before and after a 3-month exercise program (diabetic, n=40 and non-diabetic, n=36, respectively). Plasma fetuin-A was assayed using ELISA. The presence and expression of fetuin-A in SAT, peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) and cell lines (3T3-L1, THP-1, HepG2, RAW 264.7) were analysed using confocal microscopy, immunoblotting and qRT-PCR. Results: Plasma fetuin-A level did not significantly differ between diabetic and non-diabetic obese subjects. However, when the non-diabetic group was divided into metabolically healthy and unhealthy phenotypes, significantly higher fetuin-A level was observed in the unhealthy sub-group. Circulating fetuin-A was mainly associated with glycaemic markers. In SAT, fetuin-A protein level was significantly higher in the diabetic obese subjects but its mRNA was not detected. Similarly, fetuin-A protein was detected in PBMCs, but its mRNA was not. In line with this, the use of various cell lines and culture media indicated that the presence of fetuin-A in SAT and PBMCs was due to its uptake from circulation rather than its endogenous expression. Finally, physical exercise decreased fetuin-A levels in both plasma and SAT in both groups. Conclusions: Fetuin-A levels increased in association with diabetes in SAT but not in circulation in the obese subjects. Moreover, physical exercise decreased fetuin-A level. Fetuin-A potentially acts as a hepatokine taken up by other tissues, such as adipose tissue.

Original languageEnglish
Article number291
JournalLipids in Health and Disease
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 22 Dec 2018


  • Adipose tissue
  • Fetuin-A
  • Insulin resistance
  • Obesity
  • Physical exercise


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