, Volume 61, Issue 2, pp 466–475 | Cite as

Impact of prolonged overfeeding on skeletal muscle mitochondria in healthy individuals

  • Frederico G. S. Toledo
  • Darcy L. Johannsen
  • Jeffrey D. Covington
  • Sudip Bajpeyi
  • Bret Goodpaster
  • Kevin E. Conley
  • Eric Ravussin



Reduced mitochondrial capacity in skeletal muscle has been observed in obesity and type 2 diabetes. In humans, the aetiology of this abnormality is not well understood but the possibility that it is secondary to the stress of nutrient overload has been suggested. To test this hypothesis, we examined whether sustained overfeeding decreases skeletal muscle mitochondrial content or impairs function.


Twenty-six healthy volunteers (21 men, 5 women, age 25.3 ± 4.5 years, BMI 25.5 ± 2.4 kg/m2) underwent a supervised protocol consisting of 8 weeks of high-fat overfeeding (40% over baseline energy requirements). Before and after overfeeding, we measured systemic fuel oxidation by indirect calorimetry and performed skeletal muscle biopsies to measure mitochondrial gene expression, content and function in vitro. Mitochondrial function in vivo was measured by 31P NMR spectroscopy.


With overfeeding, volunteers gained 7.7 ± 1.8 kg (% change 9.8 ± 2.3). Overfeeding increased fasting NEFA, LDL-cholesterol and insulin concentrations. Indirect calorimetry showed a shift towards greater reliance on lipid oxidation. In skeletal muscle tissue, overfeeding increased ceramide content, lipid droplet content and perilipin-2 mRNA expression. Phosphorylation of AMP-activated protein kinase was decreased. Overfeeding increased mRNA expression of certain genes coding for mitochondrial proteins (CS, OGDH, CPT1B, UCP3, ANT1). Despite the stress of nutrient overload, mitochondrial content and mitochondrial respiration in muscle did not change after overfeeding. Similarly, overfeeding had no effect on either the emission of reactive oxygen species or on mitochondrial function in vivo.


Skeletal muscle mitochondria are significantly resilient to nutrient overload. The lower skeletal muscle mitochondrial oxidative capacity in human obesity is likely to be caused by reasons other than nutrient overload per se.

Trial registration

ClinicalTrials.gov NCT01672632.


Human Insulin resistance Insulin sensitivity Mitochondria Obesity 



AMP-activated protein kinase


Mitochondrial capacity


Carbonyl cyanide-4-(trifluoromethoxy)phenylhydrazone


Physical activity level




Peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-γ coactivator-1α


Quantitative PCR


Reactive oxygen species


Sleep metabolic rate


Total daily energy expenditure



We thank D. Stoltz (Center for Biological Imaging, University of Pittsburgh, PA, USA) for assistance with electron microscopy and E. Leachman (Dept of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh, PA, USA) and P. Coen (Translational Research Institute for Metabolism and Diabetes, USA) for assistance with succinate dehydrogenase histology.

Data availability

All data generated or analysed during this study are included in this published article.


This work was supported by NIH grants R01DK060412 and K01DK89005 and by NORC Center Grant P30DK72476.

Duality of interest

The authors declare that there is no duality of interest associated with this manuscript.

Contribution statement

FGST and ER designed the study, analysed the data and wrote the manuscript. FGST was responsible for the study concept. All authors participated in data acquisition, revised the manuscript critically for intellectual content and approved the final version. ER is the guarantor of this work.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Frederico G. S. Toledo
    • 1
  • Darcy L. Johannsen
    • 2
  • Jeffrey D. Covington
    • 2
  • Sudip Bajpeyi
    • 2
    • 3
  • Bret Goodpaster
    • 4
  • Kevin E. Conley
    • 5
  • Eric Ravussin
    • 2
  1. 1.Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism, Department of MedicineUniversity of Pittsburgh School of MedicinePittsburghUSA
  2. 2.Pennington Biomedical Research CenterBaton RougeUSA
  3. 3.Department of KinesiologyUniversity of Texas El PasoEl PasoUSA
  4. 4.Translational Research Institute for Metabolism and DiabetesOrlandoUSA
  5. 5.University of Washington Medical CenterSeattleUSA

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