Comprehensive interrogation of human skeletal muscle reveals a dissociation between insulin resistance and mitochondrial capacity

Katie L. Whytock, Maria F. Pino, Yifei Sun, Gong Xin Yu, Flavia G. De Carvalho, Reichelle X. Yeo, Rick B. Vega, Gaganvir Parmar, Adeline Divoux, Nidhi Kapoor, Fancaho Yi, Heather Cornnell, David A. Patten, Mary Ellen Harper, Stephen J. Gardell, Steven R. Smith, Martin J. Walsh, Lauren M. Sparks

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Insulin resistance and blunted mitochondrial capacity in skeletal muscle are often synonymous, however, this association remains controversial. The aim of this study was to perform an in-depth multifactorial comparison of skeletal muscle mitochondrial capacity between individuals who were lean and active (Active, n ¼ 9), individuals with obesity (Obese, n ¼ 9), and individuals with obesity, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes (T2D, n ¼ 22). Mitochondrial capacity was assessed by ex vivo mitochondrial respiration with fatty-acid and glycolytic-supported protocols adjusted for mitochondrial content (mtDNA and citrate synthase activity). Supercomplex assembly was measured by Blue Native (BN)-PAGE and immunoblot. Tricarboxylic (TCA) cycle intermediates were assessed with targeted metabolomics. Exploratory transcriptomics and DNA methylation analyses were performed to uncover molecular differences affecting mitochondrial function among the three groups. We reveal no discernable differences in skeletal muscle mitochondrial content, mitochondrial capacity, supercomplex assembly, TCA cycle intermediates, and mitochondrial molecular profiles between obese individuals with and without T2D that had comparable levels of confounding factors (body mass index, age, and aerobic capacity). We highlight that lean, active individuals have greater mitochondrial content, mitochondrial capacity, supercomplex assembly, and TCA cycle intermediates. These phenotypical changes are reflected at the level of DNA methylation and gene transcription. The collective observation of comparable muscle mitochondrial capacity in individuals with obesity and T2D (vs. individuals without T2D) underscores a dissociation from skeletal muscle insulin resistance. Clinical trial number: NCT01911104.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E291-E302
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Endocrinology and Metabolism
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2023


  • insulin resistance
  • mitochondrial capacity
  • skeletal muscle
  • type 2 diabetes


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