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Endothelial nitric oxide (NO) signaling plays a physiological role in limiting obesity-associated insulin resistance and inflammation. This study was undertaken to investigate whether this NO effect involves polarization of macrophages toward an anti-inflammatory M2 phenotype. Mice with transgenic endothelial NO synthase overexpression were protected against high-fat diet (HFD)-induced hepatic inflammation and insulin resistance, and this effect was associated with reduced proinflammatory M1 and increased anti-inflammatory M2 activation of Kupffer cells. In cell culture studies, exposure of macrophages to endothelial NO similarly reduced inflammatory (M1) and increased anti-inflammatory (M2) gene expression. Similar effects were induced by macrophage overexpression of vasodilator-stimulated phosphoprotein (VASP), a key downstream mediator of intracellular NO signaling. Conversely, VASP deficiency induced proinflammatory M1 macrophage activation, and the transplantation of bone marrow from VASP-deficient donor mice into normal recipients caused hepatic inflammation and insulin resistance resembling that induced in normal mice by consumption of an HFD. These data suggest that proinflammatory macrophage M1 activation and macrophage-mediated inflammation are tonically inhibited by NO → VASP signal transduction, and that reduced NO → VASP signaling is involved in the effect of HFD feeding to induce M1 activation of Kupffer cells and associated hepatic inflammation. Our data implicate endothelial NO → VASP signaling as a physiological determinant of macrophage polarization and show that signaling via this pathway is required to prevent hepatic inflammation and insulin resistance.


  • Lee WJ, Tateya S, Cheng AM, Rizzo-DeLeon N, Wang NF, Handa P, Wilson CL, Clowes AW, Sweet IR, Bomsztyk K, Schwartz MW, Kim F. M2 Macrophage Polarization Mediates Anti-inflammatory Effects of Endothelial Nitric Oxide Signaling. Diabetes. 2015 Aug;64(8):2836-46. PMID: 25845662; PMCID: PMC4512216.

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Research Details

  • Research Center: University of Washington

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