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PTEN Mutations as a Cause of Constitutive Insulin Sensitivity and Obesity

Aparna Pal, M.R.C.P., Thomas M. Barber, D.Phil., M.R.C.P., Martijn Van de Bunt, M.D., Simon A. Rudge, Ph.D., Qifeng Zhang, Ph.D., Katherine L. Lachlan, M.R.C.P.C.H., Nicola S. Cooper, M.R.C.P., Helen Linden, M.R.C.P., Jonathan C. Levy, M.D., F.R.C.P., Michael J.O. Wakelam, Ph.D., Lisa Walker, D.Phil., M.R.C.P.C.H., Fredrik Karpe, Ph.D., F.R.C.P., and Anna L. Gloyn, D.Phil.

N Engl J Med 2012; 367:1002-1011  September 13, 2012DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1113966


Epidemiologic and genetic evidence links type 2 diabetes, obesity, and cancer. The tumor-suppressor phosphatase and tensin homologue (PTEN) has roles in both cellular growth and metabolic signaling. Germline PTEN mutations cause a cancer-predisposition syndrome, providing an opportunity to study the effect of PTENhaploinsufficiency in humans.


We measured insulin sensitivity and beta-cell function in 15 PTENmutation carriers and 15 matched controls. Insulin signaling was measured in muscle and adipose-tissue biopsy specimens from 5 mutation carriers and 5 well-matched controls. We also assessed the effect of PTEN haploinsufficiency on obesity by comparing anthropometric indexes between the 15 patients and 2097 controls from a population-based study of healthy adults. Body composition was evaluated by means of dual-emission x-ray absorptiometry and skinfold thickness.


Measures of insulin resistance were lower in the patients with aPTEN mutation than in controls (e.g., mean fasting plasma insulin level, 29 pmol per liter [range, 9 to 99] vs. 74 pmol per liter [range, 22 to 185]; P=0.001). This finding was confirmed with the use of hyperinsulinemic euglycemic clamping, showing a glucose infusion rate among carriers 2 times that among controls (P=0.009). The patients’ insulin sensitivity could be explained by the presence of enhanced insulin signaling through the PI3K-AKT pathway, as evidenced by increased AKT phosphorylation. The PTEN mutation carriers were obese as compared with population-based controls (mean body-mass index [the weight in kilograms divided by the square of the height in meters], 32 [range, 23 to 42] vs. 26 [range, 15 to 48]; P<0.001). This increased body mass in the patients was due to augmented adiposity without corresponding changes in fat distribution.


PTEN haploinsufficiency is a monogenic cause of profound constitutive insulin sensitization that is apparently obesogenic. We demonstrate an apparently divergent effect of PTEN mutations: increased risks of obesity and cancer but a decreased risk of type 2 diabetes owing to enhanced insulin sensitivity. (Funded by the Wellcome Trust and others.)

Supported by grants from the Wellcome Trust (095101/Z/10Z, to Dr. Gloyn), the Medical Research Council (G0700222, to Dr. Gloyn; and G0800467, to Drs. Pal and Gloyn), the National Institute for Health Research Oxford Biomedical Research Centre (to Drs. Pal, Karpe, and Gloyn), the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (to Drs. Rudge, Zhang, and Wakelam), and the European Union Seventh Framework Program LipodomicNet (202272, for adipocyte signaling work, to Drs. Wakelam and Karpe).

Disclosure forms provided by the authors are available with the full text of this article at NEJM.org.

We thank the clinicians Trevor R.P. Cole, Louise Izatt, Carole McKeown, Eamonn R. Maher, and Mary Porteous for referring patients for this study; the research nurses Beryl Barrow and Jane Cheeseman for assistance with collecting clinical data; Amy Barrett for analysis of PTEN expression; Sandy Humphries for analysis of apolipoprotein B; Tim James and colleagues at the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, for analysis of glucose and insulin; the NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre Core Biochemical Assay Laboratory for analysis of leptin and adiponectin; Leanne Hodson and Barbara Fielding for access to control dual-emission x-ray absorptiometry scans and phenotypic data on postmenopausal controls; and Jonathan Clark and Izabella Niewczas for providing lipid standards for the mass-spectrometry analysis.


From the Oxford Centre for Diabetes Endocrinology and Metabolism, University of Oxford, Oxford (A.P., T.M.B., M.V.B., J.C.L., F.K., A.L.G.); the Oxford National Institute for Health Research Biomedical Research Centre (A.P., J.C.L., F.K., A.L.G.) and the Oxford Regional Genetics Centre (H.L., L.W.), Churchill Hospital, Oxford; the Inositide Laboratory, the Babraham Institute, Babraham, Cambridge (S.A.R., Q.Z., M.J.O.W.); Wessex Clinical Genetics Service, University Hospital Southampton, Southampton (K.L.L.); the Department of Human Genetics and Genomic Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Southampton, Southampton (K.L.L.); and West Midlands Regional Clinical Genetics Service, Birmingham Women’s Hospital, Birmingham (N.S.C.) — all in the United Kingdom.

Address reprint requests to Dr. Gloyn at the Oxford Centre for Diabetes Endocrinology and Metabolism, University of Oxford, Churchill Hospital, Headington, Oxford OX3 7LE, United Kingdom, or atanna.gloyn@drl.ox.ac.uk.


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