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Adipose Tissue Epigenetic Profile in Obesity-Related Dysglycemia - A Systematic Review.

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Andrade, Sara 
Morais, Tiago 
Sandovici, Ionel 
Seabra, Alexandre L  ORCID logo
Constância, Miguel 



Obesity is a major risk factor for dysglycemic disorders, including type 2 diabetes (T2D). However, there is wide phenotypic variation in metabolic profiles. Tissue-specific epigenetic modifications could be partially accountable for the observed phenotypic variability.


The aim of this systematic review was to summarize the available data on epigenetic signatures in human adipose tissue (AT) that characterize overweight or obesity-related insulin resistance (IR) and dysglycemia states and to identify potential underlying mechanisms through the use of unbiased bioinformatics approaches.


Original data published in the last decade concerning the comparison of epigenetic marks in human AT of individuals with metabolically unhealthy overweight/obesity (MUHO) versus normal weight individuals or individuals with metabolically healthy overweight/obesity (MHO) was assessed. Furthermore, association of these epigenetic marks with IR/dysglycemic traits, including T2D, was compiled.


We catalogued more than two thousand differentially methylated regions (DMRs; above the cut-off of 5%) in the AT of individuals with MUHO compared to individuals with MHO. These DNA methylation changes were less likely to occur around the promoter regions and were enriched at loci implicated in intracellular signaling (signal transduction mediated by small GTPases, ERK1/2 signaling and intracellular trafficking). We also identified a network of seven transcription factors that may play an important role in targeting DNA methylation changes to specific genes in the AT of subjects with MUHO, contributing to the pathogeny of obesity-related IR/T2D. Furthermore, we found differentially methylated CpG sites at 8 genes that were present in AT and whole blood, suggesting that DMRs in whole blood could be potentially used as accessible biomarkers of MUHO.


The overall evidence linking epigenetic alterations in key tissues such AT to metabolic complications in human obesity is still very limited, highlighting the need for further studies, particularly those focusing on epigenetic marks other than DNA methylation. Our initial analysis suggests that DNA methylation patterns can potentially discriminate between MUHO from MHO and provide new clues into why some people with obesity are less susceptible to dysglycemia. Identifying AT-specific epigenetic targets could also lead to novel approaches to modify the progression of individuals with obesity towards metabolic disease.

Systematic review registration

PROSPERO, identifier CRD42021227237.



Obesity, DNA methylation, Insulin resistance, Adipose tissue, Type 2 diabetes, Histone Modifications, Long Non-coding Rnas, Dysglycemia

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Frontiers in endocrinology

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