Free fatty acid metabolism and obesity in man: in vivo in vitro comparisons
We have examined the relationship of free fatty acid (FFA) turnover and lipid oxidation rates in vivo to the size of body triglyceride stores and compared these findings with the in vitro lipolytic rates of isolated abdominal fat cells. The studies were performed in 20 Pima Indian women 18 to 35 years of age, both lean and obese. FFA turnover rate was measured using a 1-14C-palmitate infusion, lipid oxidation rate by indirect calorimetry using a ventilated hood, body composition by underwater weighing with correction for residual lung volume, and fat cell lipolytic rates in vitro by published methods. Both FFA turnover and lipid oxidation rates, expressed per kg of body fat, decreased with increasing degree of obesity (as measured by percent body fat) (r = -0.90, and r = -0.75, P less than or equal to 0.0001, respectively). In contrast, the rate of lipolysis determined in vitro, expressed per kg of fat, increased with increasing degree of obesity (r = 0.58, P less than 0.01). A ratio of FFA turnover/lipolysis, which directly compares these in vivo and in vitro measurements, decreased significantly with increases in the degree of obesity (r = -0.81, P less than or equal to 0.0001). Furthermore, there were no positive correlations between the measures of in vivo FFA metabolism and in vitro lipolysis when both were expressed per fat mass, per fat cell number, or per fat cell surface area. The in vivo data also demonstrated that lipid oxidation could only account for 50% of the FFA disappearance rate. While lipid oxidation rate adjusted to the metabolic size increased with increasing plasma FFA concentration (r = 0.75, P less than 0.0003), the nonoxidative component of the FFA turnover failed to increase with increases in plasma FFA concentration (P = 0.5). We conclude that FFA is not available in vivo in proportion to the size of the triglyceride stores. The reason for this is not due to an inability of fat cells to release their stored triglyceride as assessed in vitro. Hence, in vitro measurements of fat cell lipolysis cannot be used to directly predict in vivo FFA metabolism. The large nonoxidative FFA disposal is likely to be important in the regulation of plasma FFA concentrations.