Ageing, adipose tissue, fatty acids and inflammation

Chathyan Pararasa*, Clifford J. Bailey, Helen R. Griffiths

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A common feature of ageing is the alteration in tissue distribution and composition, with a shift in fat away from lower body and subcutaneous depots to visceral and ectopic sites. Redistribution of adipose tissue towards an ectopic site can have dramatic effects on metabolic function. In skeletal muscle, increased ectopic adiposity is linked to insulin resistance through lipid mediators such as ceramide or DAG, inhibiting the insulin receptor signalling pathway. Additionally, the risk of developing cardiovascular disease is increased with elevated visceral adipose distribution. In ageing, adipose tissue becomes dysfunctional, with the pathway of differentiation of preadipocytes to mature adipocytes becoming impaired; this results in dysfunctional adipocytes less able to store fat and subsequent fat redistribution to ectopic sites. Low grade systemic inflammation is commonly observed in ageing, and may drive the adipose tissue dysfunction, as proinflammatory cytokines are capable of inhibiting adipocyte differentiation. Beyond increased ectopic adiposity, the effect of impaired adipose tissue function is an elevation in systemic free fatty acids (FFA), a common feature of many metabolic disorders. Saturated fatty acids can be regarded as the most detrimental of FFA, being capable of inducing insulin resistance and inflammation through lipid mediators such as ceramide, which can increase risk of developing atherosclerosis. Elevated FFA, in particular saturated fatty acids, maybe a driving factor for both the increased insulin resistance, cardiovascular disease risk and inflammation in older adults.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)235-248
Number of pages14
Issue number2
Early online date4 Nov 2014
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2015

Bibliographical note

The final publication is available at Springer via

Funding: BBSRC Targeted Priority Studentship in Ageing scheme


  • adipose
  • ageing
  • ceramide
  • inflammation
  • insulin resistance
  • saturated fatty acids


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