Two studies were performed to assess the entero-insular axis in simple obesity and the possible effect of variations in the level of circulating non-esterified fatty acids (NEFA) on one of the components of the entero-insular axis, glucagon-like peptide-1 [(7–36) amide]. In the first study, we compared the entero-pancreatic hormone response to oral carbohydrate in obese and lean women. Obese subjects demonstrated hyperinsulinaemia and impaired glucose tolerance but this was not associated with an increased secretion of either glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptide or glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1). These findings therefore provide no support for the hypothesis that overactivity of the entero-insular axis contributes to the hyperinsulinaemia seen in obesity. Indeed, the plasma GLP-1 response to carbohydrate was markedly attenuated in obese subjects, confirming previous observations. In the second study, in which carbohydrate-stimulated GLP-1 responses were again evaluated in obese and lean women, circulating NEFA levels were modulated using either heparin (to increase serum NEFA) or acipimox (to reduce serum NEFA). Treatment with acipimox resulted in complete suppression of NEFA levels and in a markedly higher GLP-1 response than the response to carbohydrate alone or to carbohydrate plus heparin. We suggest that higher fasting and postprandial NEFA levels in obesity may tonically inhibit nutrient-mediated GLP-1 secretion, and that this results in attenuation of the GLP-1 response to carbohydrate. However, although serum NEFA levels post-acipimox were similarly suppressed in both lean and obese subjects, the GLP-1 response was again significantly lower in obese subjects, suggesting the possibility of an intrinsic defect of GLP-1 secretion in obesity. The reduction of GLP-1 levels in obesity may be important both in relation to its insulinotropic effect and to its postulated role as a satiety factor.

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