BACKGROUND: The imprinted gene Delta like non-canonical Notch ligand 1 (Dlk1) is considered an inhibitor of adipogenesis, but its in vivo impact on fat mass indeed remains elusive and controversial.
METHODS: Fat deposits were assessed by MRI and DXA scanning in two cohorts of non-diabetic men, whereas glucose disposal rate (GDR) was determined during euglycemic hyperinsulinemic clamp. Blood analyte measurements were used for correlation and mediation analysis to investigate how age, BMI, and fat percentage affect the relation between DLK1 and GDR. Confirmatory animal studies performed in normal (NC) and high fat diet (HFD) fed Dlk1+/+ and Dlk1-/- mice included DXA scanning, glucose tolerance tests (GTTs), blood measurements, and skeletal muscle glucose uptake studies by positron emission tomography (PET), histology, qRT-PCR, and in vitro cell studies.
FINDINGS: Overall, DLK1 is positively correlated with fat amounts, which is consistent with a negative linear relationship between DLK1 and GDR. This relationship is not mediated by age, BMI, or fat percentage. In support, DLK1 also correlates positively with HOMA-IR and ADIPO-IR in these humans, but has no linear relationship with the early diabetic inflammation marker MCP-1. In Dlk1-/- mice, the increase in fat percentage and adipocyte size induced by HFD is attenuated, and these animals are protected against insulin resistance. These Dlk1 effects seem independent of gluconeogenesis, but at least partly relies on increased in vivo glucose uptake in skeletal muscles by Dlk1 regulating the major glucose transporter Glut4 in vivo as well as in two independent cell lines.
INTERPRETATION: Thus, instead of an adipogenic inhibitor, Dlk1 should be regarded as a factor causally linked to obesity and insulin resistance, and may be used to predict development of type 2 diabetes. FUND: The Danish Diabetes Academy supported by the Novo Nordisk Foundation, The Danish National Research Council (#09-073648), The Lundbeck Foundation, University of Southern Denmark, and Dep. Of Clinical Biochemistry and Pharmacology/Odense University Hospital, the Swedish Research Council, the Swedish Diabetes Foundation, the Strategic Research Program in Diabetes at Karolinska Institute and an EFSD/Lilly grant.