Human adipose cells in vitro are either refractory or responsive to insulin, reflecting host metabolic state. Academic Article uri icon


  • While intercellular communication processes are frequently characterized by switch-like transitions, the endocrine system, including the adipose tissue response to insulin, has been characterized by graded responses. Yet here individual cells from adipose tissue biopsies are best described by a switch-like transition between the basal and insulin-stimulated states for the trafficking of the glucose transporter GLUT4. Two statistically-defined populations best describe the observed cellular heterogeneity, representing the fractions of refractive and responsive adipose cells. Furthermore, subjects exhibiting high systemic insulin sensitivity indices (SI) have high fractions of responsive adipose cells in vitro, while subjects exhibiting decreasing SI have increasing fractions of refractory cells in vitro. Thus, a two-component model best describes the relationship between cellular refractory fraction and subject SI. Since isolated cells exhibit these different response characteristics in the presence of constant culture conditions and milieu, we suggest that a physiological switching mechanism at the adipose cellular level ultimately drives systemic SI.

publication date

  • 2015