Statins activate the NLRP3 inflammasome and impair insulin signaling via p38 and mTOR Journal Articles uri icon

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  • Statins lower cholesterol and risk of cardiovascular disease. Statins can increase blood glucose and risk of new-onset diabetes. It is unclear why statins can have opposing effects on lipids versus glucose. Statins have cholesterol-independent pleiotropic effects that influence both insulin and glucose control. Statin lowering of isoprenoids required for protein prenylation promotes pancreatic β-cell dysfunction and adipose tissue insulin resistance. Protein prenylation influences immune function and statin-mediated adipose tissue insulin resistance involves the NLR family pyrin domain-containing 3 (NLRP3) inflammasome and IL-1β. However, the intracellular cues that statins engage to activate the NLRP3 inflammasome and those responsible for IL-1β-mediated insulin resistance in adipose tissue have not been identified. We hypothesized that stress kinases or components of the insulin signaling pathway mediated statin-induced insulin resistance. We tested the associations of p38, ERK, JNK, phosphatase, and tensin homolog (PTEN), and mTOR in statin-exposed adipose tissue from WT and IL-1β−/− mice. We found that statins increased phosphorylation of p38 in WT and IL-1β−/− mice. Statin activation of p38 upstream of IL-1β led to priming of this NLRP3 inflammasome effector in macrophages. We found that mTORC1 inhibition with low doses of rapamycin (2 or 20 nM) lowered macrophage priming of IL-1β mRNA and secretion of IL-1β caused by multiple statins. Rapamycin (20 nM) or the rapalog everolimus (20 nM) prevented atorvastatin-induced lowering of insulin-mediated phosphorylation of Akt in mouse adipose tissue. These results position p38 and mTOR as mediators of statin-induced insulin resistance in adipose tissue and highlight rapalogs as candidates to mitigate the insulin resistance and glycemic side effects of statins.


  • Henriksbo, Brandyn D
  • Tamrakar, Akhilesh K
  • Phulka, Jobanjit S
  • Barra, Nicole G
  • Schertzer, Jonathan

publication date

  • July 1, 2020

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