Objective Excess dietary lipids result in the accumulation of lipid metabolites including ceramides that can attenuate insulin signaling. There is evidence that a botanical extract of Urtica dioica L. (stinging nettle) improves insulin action, yet the precise mechanism(s) are not known. Hence, we examined the effects of Urtica dioica L. (UT) on adipocytes. Research Design We investigated the effects of an ethanolic extract of UT on free fatty acid (palmitic acid) induced inhibition of insulin-stimulated Akt serine phosphorylation and modulation of ceramidase expression in 3T3-L1 adipocytes. Adipocytes were exposed to excess FFAs in the presence or absence of UT. Effects on adiponectin expression, ceramidase expression, ceramidase activity, ceramide accumulation and insulin signaling were determined. Results As expected, FFAs reduced adiponectin expression and increased the expression of ceramidase enzymes but not their activity. FFA also induced the accumulation of ceramides and reduced insulin-stimulated phosphorylation of Akt in adipocytes. The effects of FFA were partially reversed by UT. UT enhanced adiponectin expression and ceramidase activity in the presence of excess FFAs. UT abated ceramide accumulation and increased insulin sensitivity via enhanced Akt phosphorylation. A siRNA knockdown of adiponectin expression prevented UT from exerting positive effects on ceramidase activity but not Akt phosphorylation. Conclusions In adipocytes, the ability of UT to antagonize the negative effects of FFA by modulating ceramidase activity and ceramide accumulation is dependent on the presence of adiponectin. However, the ability of UT to enhance Akt phosphorylation is independent of adiponectin expression. These studies demonstrate direct effects of UT on adipocytes and suggest this botanical extract is metabolically beneficial.
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