Background The lipodystrophy-like phenotype has been suggested in early chronic kidney disease (CKD). It includes adipose tissue atrophy, systemic insulin resistance (IR), dyslipidemia and ectopic lipid accumulation. To elucidate its pathogenesis, we investigated the role of two uremic toxins that affect insulin sensitivity: an endogenous nitric oxide synthase inhibitor, and asymmetric dimethylarginine (ADMA) and indoxyl sulfate (IS). Methods Six-week-old Sprague-Dawley rats were rendered CKD by subtotal nephrectomy (Nx) and compared with sham-operated rats. Cultured 3T3-L1 fibroblasts were differentiated into mature adipocytes with or without ADMA. Transgenic (Tg) mice overexpressing each isoform of ADMA degrading enzyme, dimethylarginine dimethylaminohydrolase 1 (DDAH1) and DDAH2 were subject to Nx and their phenotypes were investigated. Results In Nx rats, IR was evident and insulin stimulation failed to activate insulin signaling in adipose tissues. Adipose tissue weight, adipocyte size and adipocyte differentiation marker expressions decreased as a consequence of IR in Nx. Tissue lipid content in the liver and muscle increased in Nx rats. Tissue levels of ADMA, IS and oxidative stress increased in the adipose tissue of Nx rats. Both DDAH1 and DDAH2 expressions decreased, and a putative IS receptor, aryl hydrocarbon receptor, expression increased in the adipose tissue of Nx rats. ADMA inhibited adipocyte differentiation, triglyceride accumulation and insulin signaling, which were reversed by pretreatment with cGMP. In each type of Tg mice overexpressing DDAH1 or DDAH2, all lipodystrophy-like phenotypes induced by Nx were reversed. Conclusions In mild CKD, dysregulation of the ADMA/DDAH pathway in adipose tissue triggers lipodystrophy-like phenotype changes, including ectopic fat depositions.
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